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The Magnificent Medills: America's Royal Family of Journalism During a Century of Turbulent Splendor Hardcover – October 11, 2011

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Download a Q&A with Megan McKinney about The Magnificent Medills [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061782238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061782237
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #929,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“[An] immensely entertaining book. . . . McKinney vividly re-creates the city’s no-holds-barred newspaper culture.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Shifting smoothly from the life of one Medill, Patterson or McCormick to another, in the end she achieves a clear and comprehensive family biography, with all its complex interconnections.” (New York Times Book Review)

“A solid account of this family.” (Washington Post)

“Megan McKinney has written a knock-out dynastic history about the world of journalism. In The Magnificent Medills we learn how a single family forever changed Chicago and America. It’s impossible to understand today’s modern media world without reading this brilliant book. Highly recommended!” (Douglas Brinkley, author of The Quiet World)

“Megan McKinney’s wonderfully researched, thoroughly engrossing, The Magnificent Medills, reveals Chicago’s McCormick-Patterson family in all its dazzling brilliance and delicious eccentricity.” (David Garrard Lowe, author of Lost Chicago)

“Compulsively readable.  . . . With its backdrop of wealth and power, The Magnificent Medills reads almost like a rich historical novel. It just happens to be true.” (BookPage)

“An intensely personal look at the Medill family. . . . Meticulously researched and detailed.” (Washington Independent Review of Books)

“Chicago historian McKinney provides the first comprehensive chronicle of the Medill newspaper dynasty. . . . Deftly tell[ing] the tale of one of America’s first families of business.” (Philanthropy Magazine Review)

“Ink, booze and eccentricity flow through a newspaper dynasty’s veins in this lively, gossipy clan bio. . . . Like her subjects, McKinney blends canny fact-finding, well-paced narrative and colorful detail into a compulsively readable confection.” (Publishers Weekly)

“It is their brilliance in publishing newspapers when newspapers really mattered, combined with lives full of fault lines, that truly fascinates. . . . A solid account of the life and times of a family that was indeed magnficent.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“This portrait of a storied newspaper dynasty packs a powerful punch.  . . . Not only a compulsively readable collective biography but also an overview of the rapid evolution of the American newspaper industry during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.” (Booklist)

From the Back Cover

The riveting story of the country’s first media dynasty, the Medills of Chicago, whose power and influence shaped the story of America and American journalism for four generations

When thirty-two-year-old former lawyer Joseph Medill bought a controlling stake in the bankrupt Chicago Daily Tribune in 1855, he had no way of foreseeing the unparalleled influence he and his progeny would have on the world of journalism and on American society at large.

Medill personally influenced the political tide that transformed America during the midnineteenth century by fostering the Republican Party, engineering the election of Abraham Lincoln and serving as a catalyst for the outbreak of the Civil War. The dynasty he established, filled with colorful characters, went on to take American journalism by storm. His grandson, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, personified Chicago, as well as its great newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, throughout much of the twentieth century. Robert’s cousin, Joseph Medill Patterson, started the New York Daily News, and Joe’s sister, Cissy Patterson, was the innovative editor of the Washington Times-Herald. In the fourth generation, Alicia Patterson founded Long Island’s Newsday, the most stunning journalistic accomplishment of post–World War II America.

Printer’s ink raged in the veins of the Medills, the McCormicks and the Pattersons throughout a century, and their legacy prevailed for another five decades—always in the forefront of events, shaping the intellectual and social pulse of America. At the same time, the dark side of the intellectual stardom driving the dynasty was a destructive compulsion that left clan members crippled by their personal demons of chronic depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and even madness and suicide.

Rife with authentic conversations and riveting quotes, The Magnificent Medills is the premiere cultural history of America’s first media empire. This dynamic family and their brilliance, eccentricities and ultimate self-destruction are explored in a sweeping narrative that interweaves the family’s personal activities and public achievements against a larger historical background. Authoritative, compelling and thoroughly engaging, The Magnificent Medills brings the pages of history that the Medills wrote vividly to life.

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Customer Reviews

It's a book that's hard to put down.
Nancy Famolari
I am from Chicago and thoroughly enjoyed reading this book to learn about the Medill/McCormick/Patterson newspaper empire and a lot of history about the city itself.
Gina B.
It is all quite interesting nonetheless, and she has a keen eye for family pathology and a very good ear for the juicy tidbit.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By CGScammell TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I enjoyed this book by journalist and Chicagoan Megan McKinney. Her personal knowledge of the newspaper-magazine publishing world add an honest brutality to her writing, and begs the reader for more. I read this with the fascination of a fellow Chicagolander and writer myself.

McKinney opens with an introduction to the man who started it all, Joseph Medill (1823-1899) who, with his wife Kitty Patrick, began the great legacy that would last a century. Their two daughters Kate and Nellie then married into other rich families, the McCormicks and the Pattersons, which created the newspaper dynasties that flourished as the grandchildren and great-grandchildren that ruled American journalism along side William Randolf Hearst well into the 1950s.

Although McKinney never allows her readers to feel great sympathy for any of her subjects, the meat of the book turns into mostly a biography of Cissy Patterson, Bert McCormick and Joseph Medill Patterson along with their rule of what became the Washington Times-Herald, the New York Daily News and the Chicago Tribune. All the people portrayed in this book seem to suffer from alcohol, drugs and a lavish, spoiled lifestyle that included multiple homes, tireless servants and marital infidelities. Their professional world included corruption and lack of ethics that would make Rupert Murdoch smirk in silence (since he ended up buying out much of the big newspapers a few decades later and is himself worthy of an investigation).

But for anyone fascinated with the world of journalism, the lives of the rich and famous and old-time gossip of the paper barons, this is a very good read. One has to pay attention though, and perhaps re-read chapters, to get the full gist of the stories of these people.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Borowy26 VINE VOICE on August 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Despite the fact that much of the material was familiar to me, I still enjoyed reading this book immensely.

I had previously read about the career of Robert R. McCormick, but Megan McKinney supplied much needed information explaining about the complex family relationships that made "the Colonel" the sui generis individual that dominated the field of newspaper publishing in Chicago. I was aware of the fact that McCormick had a difficult childhood spent apart from his distant parents, an ineffectual father and an indifferent and difficult mother, in American and English boarding schools, but this book detailed how arduous his formative years actually were.

More importantly, McKinney examines the lives of McCormick's grandparents and his cousins, Joe Patterson and Cissy Patterson, both of whom had extensive newspaper careers of their own, as well as various and sundry nieces and nephews. Joe Patterson was as liberal as his cousin was conservative and went East to establish the "New York Daily News," which was a most successful tabloid. Cissy ran a former Washington newspaper that was ultimately purchased by a competitor. Two nieces also were active in journalistic circles as well.

Richard Norton Smith's biography of McCormick spent more time on the Chicago competition between the "Tribune" and Frank Knox's "Daily News," but McKinney provided a bit more information about how William Randolph Hearst acted as a competitor, both in Chicago and in New York, and his role in Cissy Patterson's career in Washington. When Hearst was in financial peril, Marion Davies and Cissy helped him through the crisis and Hearst did not become insolvent.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Hyman VINE VOICE on December 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is one of those rare books that i could not make myself finish. The book switches between what, to me, is very interesting, and the utterly banal, in a way that makes it hard to continue through. For example, the book starts with a very interesting description of how one of the key characters works to help secure Lincoln's presidential bid. But then it degrades into relatively uninteresting sibling rivalry. It talks about the early violent newspaper wars in Chicago, and then back to issues with drinking and summer home friendships. In short, although it covers a family with non-stop intersections with key points in American and international history, the book never quite lives up to its potential. In a way it feels as if it is trying to hard to provide enough gossip to be interesting, when the non-gossipy sections are the stronger.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lehigh History Student VINE VOICE on August 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Magnificent Medills covers the story of the Medill Family and the McCormick Patterson Dynasty that shaped the course of journalism throughout the late 18th and early 19th century. Short of Hearst (who the Medills had many dealings with) the family was one of the most influential in shaping United States journalism. From the start of the Chicago Tribune to Newsweek the Medills and their decedents redefined the way Americans read newspapers. They were the socialites of their day amassing a tremendous fortune and flaunting it in private railway cars, huge houses and extravagant parties. McKinney provides a very useful family tree as it gets easy to lose track of so many family relations but at the end of the day an excellent job is done in giving enough time to introduce the family member before moving on to introducing a new person. I am usually not drawn to the socialite type histories but found this one enjoyable and well done holding my interest throughout the whole book. It is not a long and drawn out analysis of early journalism but really does focus on the families and their relations with one another. Overall enjoyable and well worth it for those interested in the lives of the wealthy for this time period.
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