The epic of Chicago is the story of the emergence of modern America. Here, witness Chicago's growth from a desolate fur-trading post in the 1830s to one of the world's most explosively alive cities by 1900. Donald Miller's powerful narrative embraces it all: Chicago's wild beginnings, its reckless growth, its natural calamities (especially the Great Fire of 1871), its raucous politics, its empire-building businessmen, its world-transforming architecture, its rich mix of cultures, its community of young writers and journalists, and its staggering engineering projects - which included the reversal of the Chicago River and raising the entire city from prairie mud to save it from devastating cholera epidemics. The saga of Chicago's unresolved struggle between order and freedom, growth and control, capitalism and community, remains instructive for our time, as we seek ways to build and maintain cities that retain their humanity without losing their energy. City of the Century throbs with the pulse of the great city it brilliantly brings to life.
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A STORY THAT TRIES TOO HARD....AND FAILS
The author doesn't give us an objective account of the city of Chicago. He spends 24 hours telling us over and over and over again how fantastic, innovative, brave, beautiful, compelling, unique, unsurpassable, incomparable, etc. Chicago's history is, to the point where I just got sick of it. It took him 17 hours and 18 chapters just to get to 1893!
I would have liked to hear a more indepth account of the REAL Chicago, i.e., the slums, the immigrant population, the corrupt politicians, the renowned "red light" district, etc. How can you tell the story of Chicago and not have at least 3 hours about the famous high-class brothel, the Everleigh Club and its owners? What about the contributions to the fabric of the from the Polish and African-American communities? This book is all about the money-grabbing white upper-class with no regard for the common people who actually kept that city running every day. Servants, boot-blacks, coachman, ladies maids, streetcar drivers, butchers in the meat-packing district, the black porters in George Pullman's railroad cars, clerks, shop girls - THEY were the true blood of that city, yet each group was mentioned in passing while Heller literally brown-nosed every rich person he could think of.
He was alright but only because the book is so disappointing. He has the perfect Midwestern twang for a story of a city grown out of the prairie.
Heller totally disrespected the Native Americans who were cheated, raped, murdered and oppressed by whites who also dessimated the buffalo, prairie flora, and other wildlife. However, he did give a small history to the Kaskaskian tribe, ancestors of my husband and our children (they are of black Créole descent - a French Canadian trapper married a Kaskaskian woman, then they eventually settled in New Iberia, Louisiana where their son married his mulatress slave). I learned more about them here than in 10 years of my own research. Even then, Heller only mentioned the great people because of their help to the pioneers and missionaries like Marquette and Joliet. He doesn't tell us how the Kaskaskia and other indigenous Illinois people were wiped out due to not only senseless slaughter but also the diseases carried by the filthy unhygienic white men from which the Natives had no immune system. Heller made the Native Americans look like drunken ignorant savages when it was the whites who introduced liquor and guns to a race who had survived for centuries on their own.
The real problem with this book is the lack of objectivity, combined with the preening and fawning way the story is written. Chicago IS a great city, yet Heller makes it sound like the the younger child of a second marriage. For example.....Chicago's father's first children are London, Paris, Berlin, Venice, and Florence. His wife dies after those kids are grown so he remarries a younger woman who give him a new family: New York City, Boston, and Washington DC. Right before the father dies, his new wife has one last "change of life" baby that neither expected - Chicago. Poor fatherless Chicago spends his whole life trying to prove that he is as great and successful and good looking as his older siblings. But everyone wants to ignore his bad habits (gambling, whoring, fighting, cheating, corruption, murder) by insisting to everyone around that "Chicago is really a good boy in his heart. Why, this morning he actually picked up the poop dropped in the front parlor by his pack of hunting hounds." REALLY, CHICAGO!?!? Try Erik Larson's "The Devil In The White City" or "Sin In The Second City" by Karen Abbott.
- Linda Lou "OCD over books, listening to 1 a day; ANY genre, fact & fiction. Influenced by Audible reviewers so I keep mine unbiased - FRONT to BLACK!"
Great history of Chicago