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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Man in the Tower and the World's Greatest Newspaper, April 28, 2008
This review is from: The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick, 1880-1955 (Paperback)
This was an interesting book, but not entirely satisfactory. There is a wealth of material to be found here, but one gets the feeling that the historian did not explore numerous topics in great detail. Many of Robert R. McCormick's relatives are mentioned, but seldom are their lives discussed at length. I was left wanting to know much more than what was provided in the biography. I had the feeling that there was more material that could have been added to the text, but the author or publisher wanted to produce a book of a certain length and did not want to exceed a given number of pages. Still, the book whetted my appetite for further reading on the same topic.

My paternal grandfather listened to the Colonel's broadcasts on WGN Radio each Sunday night and laughed out loud at the publisher's pronouncements according to what I was told by my own father. I have visited McCormick estate at Cantigny and live within walking distance of the North Shore Channel that McCormick built while serving as the President of the Metropolitan Sanitary District, but, even after reading this superb biography, the man's character seems elusive.

The only fault that I found in the text is that Smith likes to move the narrative back and forth too often for my liking. A McCormick family member drops out of the proceedings without a solitary mention for several chapters and just as suddenly reappears and then the reader is informed about all of the significant events that took place in the intervening decade concerning this individual. This becomes tedious.

Smith tells you what the Colonel said and did, but seldom suggests why he acted as he did. For example, McCormick was socially ostracized after his first marriage and forced to relocate from the North Shore to DuPage County, but I still cannot see what possessed him to conduct an affair with a relative's spouse (the couple married after the woman's divorce was granted).

Colonel McCormick was an astute businessman and made wise long term investments in Canadian paper mills that benefitted his publication.
As influential as McCormick was in terms of national politics, his antagonism towards local Republican party bosses and his friendly relations with Democratic city officials may have caused irreparable injury to the fortunes of the Republican party in Illinois.

Chicago certainly could use a newspaper publisher of his caliber today. At least when McCormick headed "The Chicago Tribune" it stood for something. Today, it is a weak middle of the road journal with a declining number of subscribers. Earlier this week, it was announced that the Tribune printing plants handling regional editions of the paper would be closed.

A digression:

Richard Norton Smith is currently the curator for the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois. He formerly headed the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Former US Senator Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois battled to place Smith in his current position when former Governor George H. Ryan (now serving a prison sentence related to official corruption) was attempting to fill the slot with a political hack.
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