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City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago Hardcover – April 17, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


A Vanity Fair and Daily Beast Hot Read

"City of Scoundrels is a lavishly intricate, well-paced account of a great city lashed to the breaking point by a political perfect storm." - James McManus, New York Times Book Review

"History that feels like the most compelling adventure yarn, full of crashing dirigibles, bloody riots and classic crooks. Loved it." - Scott Turow

"A raucous, briskly paced, thoroughly American tale...Reminds us how rich and enthralling reality can be in the hands of a great storyteller..." -- John Wilwol, The Weekly Standard

"Gary Krist has crafted a wild and appropriately explosive tale about mayhem, murder, corruption, and paranoia.... This taut, hour-by-hour account of 12 days that forever changed the city will thrill history buffs and fiction fans alike." -- Karen Abbott, bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and American Rose

"Spectacular and vivid...'City of Scoundrels' hits with the force of Lake Michigan's winds." -- Mark Caro, The Washington Post

"Krist serves up a solid, well-informed, and vibrant slice of urban history." -- Publishers Weekly

"Fast-paced...Krist handles these overlapping events with remarkable skill, weaving what in less-talented hands could have been a tangle of incidents and anecdotes into a driving narrative. At its best, "City of Scoundrels" is utterly absorbing." -- Kevin Boyle, The Chicago Tribune

"(An) eager narrative that delivers vivid reading." -- Kirkus Reviews

"The most compelling adventure yarn, full of crashing dirigibles, bloody riots, and classic crooks. Loved it." --Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent

"A lavishly intricate, well-paced account of a great city lashed to the breaking point by a political perfect storm." --New York Times


About the Author

Gary Krist has written for the New York Times, Esquire, Salon, the Washington Post Book World, and other publications.  He is the author of the acclaimed The White Cascade as well as several works of fiction.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First edition (April 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307454290
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307454294
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (161 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #628,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Before turning to narrative nonfiction with The White Cascade, City of Scoundrels, and his new book, Empire of Sin, Gary Krist wrote three novels--Bad Chemistry, Chaos Theory, and Extravagance--and two short-story collections--The Garden State and Bone by Bone. He has been a regular book reviewer for The New York Times Book Review, Salon, and The Washington Post Book World. His satirical op-eds have appeared in The New York Times and Newsday, and his stories, articles, and travel pieces have been featured in National Geographic Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Playboy, The New Republic, Esquire, and on National Public Radio's "Selected Shorts." His stories have also been anthologized in such collections as Men Seeking Women, Writers' Harvest 2, and Best American Mystery Stories. He has been the recipient of The Stephen Crane Award, The Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Lowell Thomas Gold Medal for Travel Journalism, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By LMS VINE VOICE on March 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Chicago in 1919 was a city in transition. It had grown from a small frontier town to one of the great cities of the US but much of its growth was chaotic. Urban planning was virtually nonexistent, the economy was in flux following World War I, and racial tensions were growing between whites and the growing black community. The Chicago Mayor, Big Bill Thompson, and his conspirator, Fred Lundin, had a great plan for the city. The Chicago plan would widen mean streets into great boulevards and highways, build beautiful bridges, erect skyscrapers, and fund other public projects to transform Chicago.

In July 1919, Chicago suffered a devastating 12 days. It began with the crash of the blimp, Wingfoot. The blimp caught fire and crashed in the heart of Chicago killing many innocent citizens. This is followed by the search for a young missing girl who turns up murdered by a predator, a transit strike, and deadly racial riots that result in the burning of many parts of the city. Behind the scenes, the mayor and his political enemy, governor Frank Lowden, were both trying to use these disasters for their own political good. These disasters and their aftermath cause fundamental changes in Chicago and to US history. Thompson, angry over Lowden's meddling in Chicago, will go on to destroy Lowden's chance to be the Republican nominee for president. The aftermath of the racial riots force many Chicagoans to finally confront the growing problems in the Black Belt. Chicago would go on to transform itself but the events of July 1919 would be engrained into the city's psyche.

This book was well written and highly entertaining and the history is well researched. The author includes many personal narratives to tell this story. I would recommend this book to fans of American and Chicago history. Definitely recommend.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Lynne E. TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Historian Gary Krist is a painstaking researcher, and an accomplished writer of readable, accessible history. He is extremely skilled at marshaling the known facts surrounding a collection of historical events, and then presenting everything in a polished, seamless narrative that reads more like a novel than nonfiction.

Nevertheless, CITY OF SCOUNDRELS is something of a snooze, even for a "Second City" fan like myself. The book chronicles, in detail, the events of a 12-day period in Chicago's history (July 21, 1919 to August 1, 1919) that included an unusual number of "disastrous" events. The events include the unfortunate crash of the blimp Wingfoot Express in the midst of the Loop (13 deaths, 27 injured), the mysterious disappearance/abduction of a 6-year-old schoolgirl, the public suicide of a municipal court judge, the crippling citywide transit strike, and the well-documented Chicago race riots. The events are described, more or less in chronological order, as they were reported in the Chicago daily newspapers, with some supplementation from contemporary diaries.

Unfortunately, it's hard to see how the unrelated events of this 12-day period "gave birth to modern Chicago." What CITY OF SCOUNDRELS is mostly about, is the bitter political conflict between Chicago's mayor, the unethical "Big Bill" Thompson, and Illinois' governor, the aspiring Presidential candidate Frank Lowden. Both men struggled mightily during the 12-day period to get headlines and political credit for settling the Chicago transit strike and for containing the race riots. To me, what was most interesting about the entire Thompson/Lowden rivalry, was that it ultimately led to the Republicans' infamous "smoke-filled room" nomination of Warren G.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mary Jo DiBella on March 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was a big fan of 'Devil in the White City' and so I thought I would give this one a try. I'm very glad I did!

The subject could be very dry, but the writer's style makes it absolutely riveting. There are crooked politicians, war veterans, common folk caught up in historical happenings...the book is as much a page turner as the best mystery. It is peppered with documents, personal letters, quotes from fanous and not-so-famous people.

I love this sort of book and I love getting a history lesson that reads like the best suspense.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kurt G. Schumacher VINE VOICE on May 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I grew up in Chicago, so the city's history is an attraction for me. The period between WW and WW II is also one of my interests. And I've always been fascinated by dirigibles. So a book that starts out with a dirigible? Crashing into the financial district of Chicago? In 1919?

Gotta read it!

And what a read it was. This book covers the political career of one of Chicago's many colorful figures: "Big Bill" Thompson. And it shows that not a lot has changed in the city's political landscape. When I was growing up, the Daley (the Elder) Democratic machine controlled the city. Back in the day it was Thompson's Republican machine. The parties change, but the rules were the same: stay in office, and reward your supporters though graft, coffuption and patronage. And that system has kept Chicago working for a long time.

But in the Summer of 1919 it almost stopped working. The dirigible crash was just the start. It was followed by negotiations to prevent a transit strike that would have paralyzed the city; then a missing girl that prompted a city-wide search; and finally race riots that raged out of control for days. All complicated by a political fight between the Mayor of Chicago and the Governor of Illinois.

You want political thrillers? You can't make up stuff better than this!

This is history, but it reads as well as the best fiction. I haven't read many history books that I can honestly describe as page-turners, but this is definitely one! It held my attention and kept me up late reading.

If you like Chicago history, real-life political drama, or flaming dirigibles, you have to put 'City of Scoundrels' on your reading list.
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