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Chicago: The Second City Paperback – March 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


"Alex Kotlowitz's Never a City So Real has a different style and tone from A.J. Liebling's 1952 tongue-in-cheek book about Chicago, but they belong on the same elevated bookshelf of Chicago classics. The series in The New Yorker that this book is based on elicited a slew of protests from Chicagoans, which Liebling answers in this witty volume."—Elizabeth Taylor, The Chicago Tribune
(Elizabeth Taylor The Chicago Tribune)

"Good entertainment. The book is attractively designed, the illustrations are first-rate and Mr. Liebling can write."—New York Times
(New York Times)

"Mr. Liebling's entertaining book can be highly recommended."—New York Herald Tribune
(New York Herald Tribune)

"He has shown his readers in his lively, sardonic style exactly the split-personality city that he feels Chicago to be."—San Francisco Chronicle
(San Francisco Chronicle)

From the Inside Flap

Many Chicagoans rose in protest over A. J. Liebling’s tongue-in-cheek tour of their fair city in 1952. Liebling found much to admire in the Windy City’s people and culture—its colorful language, its political sophistication, its sense of its own history and specialness, but Liebling offended that city’s image of itself when he discussed its entertainments, its built landscapes, and its mental isolation from the world’s affairs.

Liebling, a writer and editor for the New Yorker, lived in Chicago for nearly a year. While he found a home among its colorful inhabitants, he couldn’t help comparing Chicago with some other cities he had seen and loved, notably Paris, London, and especially New York. His magazine columns brought down on him a storm of protests and denials from Chicago’s defenders, and he gently and humorously answers their charges and acknowledges his errors in a foreword written especially for the book edition. Liebling describes the restaurants, saloons, and striptease joints; the newspapers, cocktail parties, and political wards; the university; and the defining event in Chicago’s mythic past, the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Illustrated by Steinberg, Chicago is a loving, if chiding, portrait of a great American metropolis.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books (March 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803280351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803280359
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,162,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By M. Allen Greenbaum HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on June 11, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The 1890 census showed that, for the first time, Chicago was the second most populous city in the nation, supplanting Philadelphia. New York, then as now, remained at the top. This one-down relationship gave the Windy City its other famous nickname, "The Second City," which in this book suggests both its inferiority to New York and its incessant striving. Chicagoans seem ambivalent about their status. "People you meet at a party devote a great deal more time than people elsewhere to talking about good government, but they usually wind up the evening boasting about the high quality of the crooks they have met." An alderman tells Liebling that Chicago "is the only completely corrupt city in America." When Liebling reminds him of other corrupt cities, the alderman replies defensively, 'But they aren't nearly as big.'"

Essayist, reporter, humorist A.J. Liebling, himself a New Yorker (who first visited Chicago in 1938, and lived there for about a year between 1949 and 1950, and briefly in 1951), takes a Big Apple-centric view in these 1953 essays originally published in The New Yorker, a magazine to which he frequently contributed. Today, he is perhaps best remembered for his sports writing, especially boxing ("The Sweet Science)" and each year pugilism's top journalistic prize is the "A.J. Liebling Award." Here, Liebling takes aim at the decline of Chicago in the arts, industry, and design, noting the city's brief but glorious apotheosis at the turn of the century and its largely futile self-aggrandizement since then. "The city consequently has the personality of man brought up in the expectation of a legacy who has learned in middle age that it will never be his.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By bukhtan on July 23, 2007
Format: Paperback
A.J. Liebling is America's most incisive and poetic journalist. And Chicago is a city worth reading and writing about. But this is not the place to start reading Liebling or reading about Chicago.

Joe Liebling was not of the "what, where, when, who" style of journalism., He needed something to spark his creative interest, someone to admire, if only a likeable rogue. Liebling found nothing and nobody in Chicago to admire, just plain rogues. And here the rogues were Republican press barons, Colonel McCormack of the Chicago Tribune foremost among them. His professional enemies. Moreover, Liebling was bored by what we now call "Middle America", and he didn't like being bored, either.

Unlike his colleague Joe Mitchell at the New Yorker (most of whose work is collected in "Up in the old hotel"), Liebling didn't subscribe to "nihil humanum a me alienum puto". There were simply people and places out there that he had no use for. New York City con men, Norwegian sailors, Louisiana rabble rousers and Nevada cowboys have their place in Liebling's world, but 3 million people all trying to conform to something they themselves couldn't define did not. That's the way Liebling understood Chicago. The various Bohemias that Chicago had nourished or tolerated (see Kenneth Rexroth's "Autobiographical novel, for some examples) were reduced or gleichgeschaltet by Liebling's visit in the Fifties. He hated the place so much that he never made the connections that would help him see behind the facade that Chicago was so anxious to present to the world.

In spite of all I've just said, this is actually an entertaining and in some ways very enlightening book, especially for those now living in Chicagoland. Those unfamiliar with Liebling (and Chicago) might better try his early paean to his native New York City, "Back where I came from", in which Liebling employed his unforgiving eye and mordancy of phrase much more productively.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By lindapanzo on September 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Earlier this year, I read Chicago newspaper columnist, Neil Steinberg's excellent book, You Were Never in Chicago (Chicago Visions and Revisions). The title was taken from a note a Chicagoan wrote to a New York writer who'd criticized Chicago and its citizens in a 1952 essay. This book is the essay Liebling wrote about Chicago.

Liebling and his wife lived in Chicago in the late 1940s/early 1950s. The essay is quite dated. He complains about how parochial Chicagoans are. Back then, he correctly points out that there is no theater scene here, no opera company. Both have long since changed.

His stories about gangsters, such as the well-known 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre were interesting. If you want to know what Chicago was like in the early 1950s, this would be an interesting read for you, as long as you keep in mind that much has changed, though, sadly, not all.

One interesting part of the edition I read is that Liebling printed some of the criticisms he received and some of the complaints about factual errors and then responded to these complaints in footnotes.

If you like to read about how Chicago used to be, this is the book for you.
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