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Grafters and Goo Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago, 1833-2003 Hardcover – March 11, 2004

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If there is a single theme in this meticulously researched book, it is that "politicians tended to abuse their power while reformers tended to abuse their own, all while pursuing their own conceptions of self-interest as well as of the common good." Merriner examines their roles against a backdrop of social history in what he labels "a blend of anecdotes and analysis, a one-volume overview of a very big story." He defines corruption as the use of improper political influence for private gain and reform as the effort to prevent such activity. Merriner reminds readers that no alderman, committeeman, or candidate since 1964 has been shot, pistol-whipped, kidnapped, dumped in the sanitary canal, or encased in concrete: "This is progress." He argues that rather than attempt to reduce the amount of corruption with stricter laws, the remedy might lie in addressing the other side of the equation: reduce the amount of government. This book is a bit more about corruption than reform, but then so is Chicago. That's what makes the book so absorbing. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


Grafters and Goo Goos captures the ebb and flow of the patented form of chicanery and outlandishness that has tarred the city of Chicago as arguably the most corrupt place on earth. This richly woven tapestry of anecdotal material is supported by colorful quotes, insightful observations, and a world-weary sense that Chicago is whatever it is, and will always be. Merriner is a wonderful writer whose seamless prose moves the story along.”—Richard Lindberg, Chicago historian and author of To Serve and Collect: Chicago Politics and Police Corruption from the Lager Beer Riot to the Summerdale Scandal, 1855–1960

“James L. Merriner, biographer of Dan Rostenkowski and veteran observer of the Chicago political scene, is superbly qualified to write this sweeping history of corruption and reform in the Windy City. Bits and pieces of this fascinating story are already well known, but Merriner’s achievement is to provide a detailed chronological narrative in one well-written volume.”—Roger Biles, author of Richard J. Daley: Politics, Race, and the Governing of Chicago

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press; 1st edition (March 11, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809325713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809325719
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,689,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Borowy26 VINE VOICE on December 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a fairly good survey of the political landscape in the City of Chicago by a veteran journalist. It tries to address the perennial question, to paraphrase Alderman Mathias "Paddy" Bauler, of "Why ain't Chicago ready for reform?"

The book is concerned with political movements and the efforts of progressives and reformers to do battle with boodlers and spoilsmen. In the political language of Chicago, good government types are derided as "goo goos" for their infantile naivete. As Merriner points out, several successful politicins had to make it clear to the precinct workers that they were not reformers in order to secure votes from party regulars.

Given the number of candidates and elections to be treated, there are more than a few errors as to dates. For example, Big Bill Thompson was not elected alderman in 1902. He was elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners that year. Similarly, Thompson was the sponsor of a reception for expelled US Senator Billy Lorimer, but not while serving as mayor. The welcome home rally occurred earlier. State's Attorney John Wayman did not resign his office in 1912. He chose to run for governor rather than to seek reelection as prosecutor and he lost the Republican nomination to the incumbent governor, Charles S. Deneen in 1912. Wayman left office upon the expiration of his term.

To quote Tip O'Neill, "All politics is local." Merriner does a respectably good job of trying to explain the political culture that is Chicago. The reform elements and progressives fought the good fight, but were outflanked by the grafters at almost every turn. The author is to be complimented for analyzing reams of archival materials, including meeting minutes, reports and correspondence from numerous civic organizations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is simply a rehash of popular lore. Exceeding basic, and nothing more than a re-hash of newspaper accounts. Virtually no primary research.
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By ed hammer on November 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The story of US government and politics is full of good guys, bad guys and compromises. Merriner's book describes those connections as they relate to Chicago, Illinois. His book is a great primer for understanding the Illinois culture of corruption but it is also a story that is comparable to the history of all 50 states. "Grafters and Goo Goos" makes a great bookshelf companion to "One Hundred Percent Guilty, How and Insider Links the Death of Six Children to the Politics of Illinois Convicted Governor George Ryan" also available on amazon.
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