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Big Bill Thompson, Chicago, and the Politics of Image Paperback – December 1, 1997

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press (December 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252066685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252066689
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,382,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The Thompson years get a shrewd and debunking examination. Bukowski challenges the notion that Thompson was just a blustering villain with a wild streak. Wielding a sardonic wit, he explores Thompson's showman brand of populist image-making and the city that ate it up and asked for more... Thompson boozed and boodled and paraded on his horse while the Chicago Tribune and the old Daily News speared him from on high and he baited them from below." M. W. Newman, The Chicago Tribune "Bukowski's well-researched biography of Thompson seeks to remove him from the realm of folklore and to understand him as a real political actor." Alan Ware, Urban History "An excellent book, written in a lively style with a contemporary resonance. A first rate meditation on the image and reality of 'Big Bill' in the context of actual and mythological Chicago political history." Steven P. Erie, author of Rainbow's End: Irish-Americans and the Dilemma of Urban Machine Politics "Written with a flair and a gentle sardonicism that makes it fun to read, Big Bill Thompson ... is a significant contribution to the literature of urban history and politics." Roger W. Biles, author of The South and the New

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Borowy26 VINE VOICE on June 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
The most singular accomplishment of the New Deal historians was to fix blame for the Great Depression upon their immediate predecessors, the Republican politicians, who held office during the Roaring Twenties. While these criticisms became widely accepted as the conventional wisdom, the truth was far more complicated.

Similarly, in Chicago, three term mayor, William Hale Thompson, Jr., was blamed for the decline and fall of the Republican Party in Chicago and Cook County, Illinois and for the epidemic corruption of the Prohibition Era. The fact that Chicago had earned a reputation for widespread corruption decades prior to Thompson's political rise and that the Democratic Party rulers who succeeded him as mayor proved to be more receptive to bribes and tolerant of underworld support made no difference at all. Following his defeat in the 1931 mayoral election, Thompson, who once shared the record for longevity in the mayor's office (subsequently surpassed by three others), became forever associated with Al Capone, who actually rose to power during the reform administration of Democrat William Dever.

Douglas Bukowski has performed a valuable service in providing a long overdue reappraisal of Thompson's skills both as a political demagogue and survivor. Whatever he lacked in formal education, Thompson made up for by being far cleverer than his opponents and allies ever gave him credit for. Other authors have written about Thompson's political career, but many of those books are long forgotten and out of print. Professor Bukowski's book fills that void.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By K.A.Goldberg on May 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
Author Douglas Bukowski takes a revision-style look at Chicago's last Republican mayor. William "Big Bill" Thompson (1869-1944) was a wealthy German-American and star athlete who turned to politics at the turn of the Century. Elected Mayor in 1915 and narrowly retained in 1919, Thompson made for one of our city's most colorful political rogues. Thompson was a coalition builder who tolerated vice, a racial progressive who engaged in demagoguery. He was also a competent administrator, opportunistic side-switcher, and outright buffoon - often turning aside serious inquiries by threatening to punch out the King of England. But Thompson invested heavily in public works (something usually associated with Democrats) and even today one can read his name on several downtown bridges over the Chicago river. Returning to win a another term in 1927 as favorite of an anti-prohibition populace (and probably of gangster Al Capone), the path soon turned downward. Thompson's final term was marred by mental breakdown and the onset of the Great Depression - which left the city broke and basically finished Republicans in Chicago.

I like the footnoted details, but wanted more on Thompson's final mayoral term. The author fixates on the tiny-but-growing black vote, yet barely notices larger white-ethnic (Polish, German, Jewish, etc.) voting blocks. Also, he presents the influencial Irish as monolithic, missing the tense divide between "lace curtain" and working-class. Overall, an imperfect but informative effort.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Vince Page on May 31, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Big Bill Thompson has been a political whipping boy ever since he failed to win re-election as Chicago mayor in the 1930s. Subsequent books on Thompson were written by supporters who wished to praise, detractors who wished to condemn or journalists who just wanted to tell a good story. But finally, after 70 years, an objective account has been written of Big Bill Thompson together with the intricate details of the prevailing political climate in Chicago before, during and after the Roaring Twenties.
Learn about the Big Bill Thomson who inherited his money from lucky parents who owned the one section of Chicago which did not burn in the Great Fire of 1871.
Learn about the Big Bill Thompson who was one of the most celebrated athletes in late 19th century Chicago.
Learn about the Big Bill Thompson who as a cowboy turned a profit on his ranch while Teddy Roosevelt was losing money on his.
Learn about a Mayor Thompson who championed an "America First" policy while exploiting class envy for his own political gain.
The reader is left with the impression that Big Bill Thompson invented the type of politics in use today. Rather than focus on Thompson himself, however, the book also explores the campaigns of his opposition, leaving the reader with a full understanding of what worked for Thompson and why it worked.
The scandal involving contributions from gangsters which effectively ended his career is given the space it deserves at the end of the book, but is not the focus of the book, as are most contemporary news stories. The reader is left with a well-rounded and objective account of one of the most successful mayors in Chicago history -- and how he got there.
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Format: Paperback
As one of the previous reviewers have already noted, William Hale Thompson needs a reappraisal. When most people think of Thompson, he is the corrupt mayor that Capone supported. As the author relates, that story comes from one source, which may or may not be true. So the monetary support of Capone ($250,000) and his picture in Capone's office may not be true. What do we know of this Republican Mayor. He started out supporting the WASP establishment and was a dry, only to become a wet and have the support of unions, blacks, and the other ethnics of Chicago. I don't think any Republican now can command that support. Thompson also had two nervous breakdowns in his three terms as mayor. He supported a wide open town, with an emphasis on construction. He build bridges and paved roads and used patronage. He was an earlier version of the later day Dalys.

This in an interesting and informative read about the last Republican mayor of Chicago. His last term was certainly a disaster, but Thompson was a shape shifter extradionaire. He balanced a machine that resulted in him getting elected three times. He also appealed to a segment of the population that the Republicans have lost. He certainly did do some things right.
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