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Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago (Crown Journeys) Hardcover – July 6, 2004

4.0 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Chicago is an awfully big place to fit into a small book, but Kotlowitz is a master of distillation. The author of There Are No Children Here (1991), a seminal tale of the Chicago projects, Kotlowitz is an omnivorous observer, discerning listener, and unassuming witness to urban life, who is as compassionate as he is curious, as respectful as he is incisive. He portrays Chicago as a place without pretense where "people are taken for who they are, not for what they have or haven't achieved," and consequently he seeks the city's many-faceted soul in the lives of its mavericks. Individuals such as Millie Wortham and Brenda Stephenson, who work for an organization that helps young mothers; artist Milton Reed, "a Diego Rivera of the projects"; and the generous owners of modest yet cherished neighborhood hot spots. Kotlowitz infuses each finely honed and stealthily affecting biographical sketch with captivating insights into Chicago history and culture, clear-eyed testimony to his great affection for this no-nonsense city and his infinite fascination with humankind. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

About the Author

ALEX KOTLOWITZ is the author of The Other Side of the River and There Are No Children Here, which was selected as one of the 150 most important books of the century by the New York Public Library. He lives in Chicago.

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Product Details

  • Series: Crown Journeys
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; New title edition (July 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400046211
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400046218
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce J. Wasser on December 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In Alex Kotlowitz' capable hands, Chicago, the city with the big shoulders, emerges as a metropolis with an enormous heart. Written as part of the Crown Journeys series, his "Never a City So Real" celebrates the vitality, integrity and diversity of the city through discreet narratives of its people. Kotlowitz avoids both the familiar and the cliché about Chicago, instead focusing on a set of characters who capture the "flesh and bone...the lifeblood" of the city. Possessing "passion and hustle," the relatively unheralded Chicagoans whom Kotlowitz focuses attention personify the city with their grit, honesty and succinct energy.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that the fist person the author uses to symbolize Chicago is his father-in-law, Jack Woltjen, whose talents, vision and intensity emerge as larger-than-life. Part huckster, part social egalitarian, Woltjen has the "passion and hustle" Chicago extols as virtues. Kotlowitz understands why Woltjen was "celebrated" in Chicago; his "entrepreneurial spirit and his unwavering belief in himself" not only persuades others of his worth but transforms the very city that provides him the opportunity to live. Iconoclastic (he doctors paintings of the masters), indignant (he exposes police brutality against the Black Panthers) and idealistic (he serves as an agent for the integration of segregated neighborhoods), Woltjen embodies Chicago's penchant for contradictions. Even a sculpture in his backyard captures a "beautiful juxtaposition of power and fragility."

Mocked by a "New Yorker" columnist as "the Second City," Chicago unabashedly refused offense. Eventually, the city's fabled comedy troupe adopts the name.
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By IS on January 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I have spent the better part of two decades in Chicago. I love this city and have explored its neighborhoods and history. When I moved here from Indiana as I boy, my world opened up and the city appeared to offer almost unlimited possibilities. Now I have lived in and visited other cities and can compare Chicago to NYC, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Prague, Seoul, SF, LA, Singapore, etc. Yet I've never been able to give visitors from other places a complete and accurate picture of what makes this city so special and unique.

This book perfectly captures the essence of Chicago without clichés, generalizations or sentimentality. It captures the entrepreneurial spirit that led to reversing the flow of a major river, the creation of retail giants and the establishment of one of the greatest civic projects of recent times (Millennium Park). It explores the triumphs of one of the most vibrant and varied immigrant communities in the world without ignoring brutal patterns of discrimination and inequality.

It does all of this in a relatively small number of pages with what seems like an effortless ability to swing from laugh-out-loud humor to deep sadness and back again. The only regret that I have about this book is that I finished it in one sitting and wanted it to keep going.

The author attempted to create a portrait of Chicago in the year 2004 and achieved something of even broader and more significant meaning. The people are so vivid and wonderful that the book transcends the categories of biography, travel, anthropology, etc and should be read by because it is simply a timeless and extremely entertaining story.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A Walk in Chicago: Never a City So Real
by Alex Kotlowitz
Crown Journeys, Crown: New York 2004 159 pp. Hardcover

The "Big Onion" is better than the "Big Apple" in many ways, and Alex Kotlowitz, a former New Yorker who has made Chicago his home for over twenty years, sets out to prove how great and diverse his adopted city really is. As he writes in his introduction, "Chicago is a place of passion and hustle...a place eternally in transition, always finding yet another way to think of itself, a city never satisfied."

But this is not the Chicago of the Art Institute, of Michigan Avenue, of Water Tower Place, or the Magnificent Mile. This is the Chicago of the South Side housing projects, the South East's closed steel mills, of Division Street and the 26th Street Criminal Court. It is the Chicago of the resilient and dedicated people who make their own neighborhoods places that come to life with positive energy and social change.

In Kotlowitz's book you meet "Oil Can Eddie," AKA, Ed Sadlowski, the retired steelworker who climbed the ranks of union leadership and "...who loves his city's opera, its museums, and its baseball teams..." You read about how this steelworker went from the steel furnace to the cover of Time Magazine, and how the union that he organized created a better life for its workers, and how that working life is now in peril. The 64-year old Sadlowski takes Kotlowitz on a city tour in his beat-up "Crown Vic" to places off the tourist map, places like Pinkerton's gravesite and the Calumet Riverfront where the strikers once clashed with police.

You get to lunch at Manny's Jewish Deli just south of the Loop, the hangout for political bosses and pit stop for every major politician who swings through Chicago.
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