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Chicago: A Biography Hardcover – October 1, 2009

ISBN-13: 000-0226644316 ISBN-10: 0226644316 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 472 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226644316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226644318
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.4 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,046,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

My goal is to... tell the story of Chicago through events minor and major that I believe explain its importance to America and the world, says Pacyga, a veteran historian of the Windy City who teaches at Columbia College Chicago. The first permanent settler in a city that would be a magnet for the world's immigrants was probably Jean Baptiste Point de Sable, a fur trader of mixed West African and French descent. From there Pacyga goes on to discuss the economic, political, social and cultural development of the city, from the Erie Canal and the development of the railroads, which were crucial in making the city a thriving port and destination for immigrants, to Chicago's industry boom during the Civil War. The suburbs, the stockyards, Jane Addams's settlement house and public housing projects all receive Pycaga's attention, as does Richard Daley's infamous 20-year reign. Enlivened by archival pictures, this book offers a broad and compressed overview of the Windy City that's generally well written and absorbing and captures most of the highlights, although contemporary Chicago receives short shrift. 145 b&w photos, 7 maps. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A wonderful achievement from someone who has devoted much of his career to studying Chicago’s history. Pacyga gives us the singular story of Chicago in his own inimitable voice.”

(Ann Durkin Keating, coeditor of The Encyclopedia of Chicago and author of Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age 2009-03-30)

“When I first moved to Chicago, I was told that ‘if you really want to know the city, you have to take a tour with Dominic Pacyga. He knows it block by block.’ When Pacyga took me around, I found that he also knew the city’s history, decade by decade. I continue to learn from his vast store of knowledge on Chicago—and now, thanks to his book, everyone can.”

(Garry Wills, professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University and author of Why I am a Catholic 3009-03-30)

“Well paced and clearly organized, Pacyga’s Chicago tells the compelling story of this uniquely American city. Pacyga’s narrative provides a particularly enjoyable time-lapse view of the successive waves of change that have seen this settlement in a swamp grow into a modern metropolis.”

(Stuart Dybek, author of The Coast of Chicago and I Sailed with Magellan 2009-05-07)

“A thoughtful and compelling addition to the great shelf of essential Chicago books. Rarely have I encountered a work of scholarship that is at once enlightening and wildly entertaining.”

(Rick Kogan, host of WGN’s “The Sunday Papers” and author of A Chicago Tavern: A Goat, a Curse, and the American Dream 2009-05-07)

“The suburbs, the stockyards, Jane Addams’s settlement house and public housing projects all receive Pacyga’s attention, as does Richard [J.] Daley’s infamous 20-year reign. Enlivened by archival pictures, [Chicago: A Biography] offers a broad and compressed overview of the Windy City.”

(Publishers Weekly 2009-08-04)

“Can anyone convey the essence of that beguiling, cantankerous, and quintessentially American city, Chicago? Public historian (and Chicago-native) Pacyga largely succeeds through his employment of textual portraits of famous figures and a necessarily limited selection of events and neighborhoods over the course of over 300 years. . . . Satisfying for scholars and highly recommended for general readers—in and beyond Chicago. A fine purchase for both institutions and individuals.”

(Frederick J. Augustyn Jr. Library Journal 2009-07-17)

“[Pacyga] decided not to write a chronological history of the city, something that could take up multiple volumes, but to treat Chicago as if it were a person — hence the title Chicago: A Biography. . . . His attention is taken up by what really does define the city: a fight for fairness for laborers, for the poor, and for children; capitalism and corruption run amok; the work produced and the people who do it.”

(Jessa Crispin The Smart Set 2009-10-08)

“[The book] includes the usual characters and events: early French traders, the Chicago Fire, Haymarket Square, George Pullman, Jane Addams, the Columbian Exposition, various mayors and Al Capone. But Pacyga seeks out the stories of the not-so-famous as well.”

(Chicago Sun-Times 2009-10-11)

“Those new to Chicago and its history will find this book to be a great place to start. For those who know something

about it already, they will find a comprehensive history that is bound to show them something new about this ever-changing city.”

(PopMatters 2009-11-25)

“Highly recommended.”

(Choice 2010-02-01)

“Chicago history buffs can skip the tuition cost of a class with Columbia’s uberpopular prof Dominic Pacyga and buy his new tome. . . . Not a bad last-minute gift for the holidays.”
(Time Out Chicago 2009-12-17)

“Dominic Pacyga’s Chicago is a biography of a great and comparatively young city. It provides a comprehensive overview of Chicago’s meteoric growth in the nineteenth century and its survival in the leaner years of the late twentieth century. Along the way, Pacyga reminds us of the remarkable things that can result when human beings interact with each other in dense, urban areas. . . . [Pacyga has] produced a very fine volume that should grace the bookshelves of every Chicago buff and every urbanist.”

(Edward Glaeser New Republic)

"Concentrating on Chicago's ever-changing cultural diversity, notorious politics, and the crucial role technology played in the city's rapid rise, Pacyga seeds the big picture with cameos of fascinating individuals. . . . A vivid, streamlined, and superbly well-illustrated portrait of an essential American city."

More About the Author

Dominic A. Pacyga was born in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood and received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1981. While in college he worked as a livestock handler and security guard in the famous Union Stock Yards. He has authored, or co-authored, five books concerning Chicago's history, including "Polish Immigrants and Industrial Chicago." Pacyga has lectured widely on topics ranging from urban development, residential architecture, labor history, immigration, and racial and ethnic relations, and has appeared in both the local and national media. His latest book is "Chicago: A Biography."

Customer Reviews

He actually loves it and says that it is easy to read and very interesting.
Chelle M
Granted these are academic studies and Pacyga seems to want to attract a more general audience, but their insights would have made this a much better book.
This is a book I highly recommend to anyone from this city or any urban historian.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By CGScammell TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the kind of book that had been screaming to get written for decades. Dominic Pacyga finally wrote a history of this fair city on the lake.

This book really does read like a biography, with the author seemingly taking a backseat to describing the general history of Chicago. No one person is excessively written about. The main idea are events and significances.

Dominic Pacyga writes in the introduction "Chicago's South side plays an important role in this story, as it has in my own life..." but anyone who knows anything about Chicago history is that most of the big events happened there. The majority of its mayors came from the south side. Workers lived there, riots broke out there, and for many years action happened on the south side. But this book does not focus just on the south side.

Full of archival photographs from the Chicago Historical Society and private collections, this book is broken down into 11 chapters. From Chicago's nascent years as a swampy outpost off Lake Michigan to the 2008 presidential election of a Homeboy from the South Side, the true "action" begins in Chapter 3, "The Era of Urban Chaos" with the 1871 fire and subsequent labor and union riots later that same decade. Another good read are the following chapters: "Reacting to Chaos: Pullman, the West Side and the Loop," "The Progressive and not-so Progressive City,"The Immigrant Capital and World War I," "Daley's City" and a final chapter on 21st-century problems. If it happened in Chicago, it's in this book. But like Pacyga writes, this book is not about EVERYTHING that happened to Chicago. For that, many more pages would have to have been written.

My one complaint about this book is more of a technical comment.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By lindapanzo on September 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Regardless of whether you call Chicago the Second City, the City That Works, the City of Big Shoulders, the City of Neighborhoods, or any of its other names, there's no doubt that the people are the heart of the city. Not the skyscrapers, the weather or, I hesitate to even say, the baseball teams.

Dominic A. Pacyga, a Chicago expert, a local, and a college professor has written what, in theory, sounded like it could've been an outstanding book, a history of the city of Chicago, with a particular emphasis on the people and the things that have affected the people, such as labor struggles, housing issues etc.

At times, this was a great book. Pacyga has a knack for putting things into perspective, such as the 1919 Chicago race wars.

Despite the interesting information, however, the author has a heavy-handed writing style and, at times, I felt overwhelmed by facts. This happened on that date at this address. That happened on this date at that address. I've heard him speak on the Chicago documentary from PBS so this surprised me.

I thought things improved as I got further into the book.

One thing really annoyed me. I'm a north side/northern suburbs girl and it really bothered me that this book could have been called The South Side of Chicago: A Biography. There was even quite a bit about the west side. However, you'd barely know that there was a north side with as little attention as he gave to it. (Of course, there really is no east side--you'd be in Lake Michigan, except for a small southeast side.)

In short, this book had its moments but the reader has to go through a lot to get to them. I'd recommend it, with some reservations.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John Jiambalvo on March 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Chicago is, and has been since its founding, a community of character and characters. Dominic Pacyga's wonderful Chicago: A Biography provides a rich narrative that exemplifies this statement as he takes us through the story of a ruined fort, a frontier town, a city on the make, and the establishment of a global metropolis. Always a hub of transportation and commerce, Chicago became a technological and financial center, a manufacturing behemoth, and the place where much of modern architecture was founded and nurtured. Pacyga narrates these triumphs superbly; yet he never underplays the racism and labor strife that shadowed so much of the city's business and artistic achievement.
Anyone who has spent a little time in Chicago knows that its culture is unique, defined by a great community of the arts, a sense of comedy all its own, and a tremendous number of ethnic groups keeping their diversity alive while contributing mightily to the community as a whole. Chicago didn't invent jazz but it gave it a second home and helped a large number of its most important musicians flourish. It has its own culture of cuisine, including the best pizza in the world; a proud and fierce, if not always triumphant, sports tradition; great universities, including one that, for better or worse, completed the fundamental science that ushered in the nuclear age. Politically, there's no place like Chicago. It has a form of government balancing the interests of the people, the Party, the State, big business, the church, and perhaps from time to time the interests of organized crime. Colorful is too colorless a word to describe this unique dynamic, but Pacyga does as good a job as anyone in bringing these broad interests into focus.
Great things'some good, some bad'have happened in Chicago.
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