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American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley - His Battle for Chicago and the Nation Paperback – May 1, 2001

3.9 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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You might say it took a village to raise this child. Richard Daley and Chicago are inseparable, and it's impossible to discuss one without at least mentioning the other. Consequently, American Pharaoh includes far more material than your average biography; this is as much the story of the city as it is of the man. Covering the years between 1902 and 1976 (that is, between Daley's birth and death), authors Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor show us a life that in some ways symbolizes the American dream: a boy from a poor neighborhood grows up to wield unimaginable power, yet never forgets his roots. But Daley's was a complicated legacy. While filling Chicago with modern architecture and affecting national politics, he was also held responsible for the segregation and police brutality that tore the city apart during the late '60s and early '70s. Throughout the book, Cohen and Taylor remind readers that Daley's real influence came from the powerful political machine he created. When he didn't like guidelines from national agencies, for example, he went directly to the presidents he helped get elected. When he got bad local press, people lost their jobs and his neighbors marched in his support. When Martin Luther King Jr. came to town, he was greeted by a handpicked organization of African American leaders with strong ties to Daley's machine. It's startling to remember that this was simply a local office; the mayor's loyalties and prejudices affected the entire country. American Pharaoh shows politics at its deepest level, and each chapter brings new insights into a complex man and the system he created in order to rule the city that made him. --Jill Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Like all good biographies, this first full account of the life of Richard Daley does more than tell the story of an individual. In the course of telling Daley's tale--from his birth (in 1902) to his death (in 1976)--journalists Cohen and Taylor also chronicle the history of 20th-century Chicago. They capture the grittiness of Daley's boyhood--the day-to-day of life near the stockyards, the importance of ethnicity in local neighborhoods and the city's seemingly paradoxical combination of parochialism and diversity, dynamic growth and resistance to change. Initiated into machine politics as a young man, Daley quickly embraced the machine's values of order, allegiance, authority and, above all, the pursuit of power. Later, he ran the city in accordance with these values; the authors explain that he always assessed his options in terms of what would both enhance his power and encourage Chicagoans to stay in their proper place. Cohen (a senior writer at Time) and Taylor (literary editor and Sunday magazine editor of the Chicago Tribune) use the most famous crisis during his tenure, the 1968 Democratic convention, to illustrate how the mayor's rigid values dictated his actions--but more importantly, they say, his myopic passion for order worked together with his deep racism to shape modern Chicago. And, they argue, his legacy is a cultural legacy--through him, early 20th-century ethnic narrow-mindedness shaped everything from the character of Chicago politics to its landscape. (Constructed during his tenure, Chicago's freeways and housing projects keep everyone, especially blacks, in their places.) Penetrating, nonsensationalistic and exhaustive, this is an impressive and important biography. 16 pages b&w illus. not seen by PW. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 614 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1 Reprint edition (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316834890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316834896
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard E. Hegner on August 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Cohen and Taylor have written both a masterful piece of investigative journalism and a captivating political biography. In many ways, this book should be required reading for anyone doing college or graduate level research in the fields of American urban or domestic political science or history. Almost like Finley Peter Dunne's MISTER DOOLEY--which it often quotes--this volume takes you inside the Chicago Democratic machine and shows just how omnipotent the organization was during Daley's tenure at the helm, not without an occasional touch of humor and irony. As its subtitle promises, the book also places Daley and his machine in the context of national (and Illionis) politics, over which they had such enormous influence, especially during the late 1950s and all through the 1960s.
The authors paint a portrait of Daley that shows his enormous personal complexity--a devout Catholic and loyal family man who did not hesitate to engage in the most bare-fisted power politics or work to capitalize on the basest human instincts. While I tend to agree with other reviewers that the book focusses a bit heavily on racial matters during the Daley mayoralty, they played a major role during this period and Daley's attempt to balance the competing interests of white ethnics and black citizens ultimately undermined the absolute authority of the Chicago Democratic machine. I disagree with reviewers who say that the authors were too anti-Daley; I feel they made an honest effort to credit him for the considerable accomplishments of his tenure--including the preservation of Downtown Chicago as a going concern when so many other rust belt cities in the Midwest and Great Lakes area were going under (e.g., Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh). They make clear, however, the enormous price that was paid for his accomplishments, including the subversion of democracy and the exacerbation of racial tensions in Chicago.
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Format: Hardcover
Born and raised in Chicago, I have always been fascinated by the personal life and public career of Richard J. Daley, arguably the city's greatest mayor whose son Richard now serves in that office. Years ago, in his book about Daley, Mike Royko suggested at least some of the parameters within which Cohen and Taylor now analyze "The Boss." They provide a wealth of information. I would have rated this biography higher had the authors probed more deeply into much of that material inorder to answer so many questions I still have about Daley.
For example, what do Daley's successes and failures as a public servant reveal about the political and social worlds in which they occurred? During the years he served as mayor, could he have achieved these same successes without maintaining absolute control of the city's political system? What did Daley share in common with those in control of the Chicago syndicate? To what extent were there strategic alliances with them? Why? If Daley was as corrupt as so many have claimed, why has no incontrovertible evidence of that corruption been presented?
The authors have much to say about Daley's relationship with Chicago's black community. This was an uneasy, at times hostile relationship. To what extent was Daley's leadership as mayor a reflection of the community (Bridgeport) in which he was born and raised? Did he hate blacks? Did he fear them? Or is there another explanation of his attitude toward them? Ancient pharaohs were on occasion benevolent to those whom they viewed as inferior as were, more recently, plantation owners in the Deep South. Perhaps Cohen and Taylor had this in mind when they selected their title.
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Format: Hardcover
Speaking as a former department head of the Chicago Housing Authority for ten years from 1945 to 1955 and as a long time professor of urban studies and social welfare at Loyola University of Chicago, may I say that American Pharaoh is the best and most faithful book to have been published about Mayor Daley that I have yet seen.
Certainly from the point of view of those who believe that public housing was and can be a most worthwhile contribution to the US urban scene, this is an indispensable piece of history.
It tells what public housing was in the twenty years when Elizabeth Wood administered the program, how it served working poor families - most of whom were mom and pop families. It shows how congregate housing could provide good shelter for families both on a separate and an integrated basis. Likewise it describes the machinations which relieved her of her job. But most important it tells of the twenty years of the Daley administration which because of its hostility to public housing put in charge of the Chicago Housing Authority a series of mediocre, incompetent, and most of all uninterested executive directors who allowed and virtually guided public housing to its present straits, where it is today the housing of last resort.
Finally it does what is equally rare. It shows how the 1969 Gautreaux case, the US Supreme Court decision that was calculated to help public housing and racial integration, has actually had minimal results. Moreover, the case has resulted in a situation where virtually no more public housing has been built since 1969.
Jim Fuerst, Chicago, IL
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