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City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  1,172 ratings  ·  240 reviews
The masterfully told story of twelve volatile days in the life of Chicago, when an aviation disaster, a race riot, a crippling transit strike, and a sensational child murder transfixed and roiled a city already on the brink of collapse.

When 1919 began, the city of Chicago seemed on the verge of transformation. Modernizers had an audacious, expensive plan to turn the city f
Hardcover, 347 pages
Published April 17th 2012 by Crown (first published 2012)
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The "twelve days of disaster" covered in Gary Krist's City of Scoundrels begin with a seemingly innocuous blimp test-flight above "the Loop" on July 21, 1919. Curious crowds gathered to behold the dirigible airship, the Wingfoot Express, (pictured below prior to its crash, obviously), and plenty of prominent characters tried to pull strings to go along for the ride.

Goodyear Dirigible in Grant Park pre-crash

Ever wondered how they figured out to use helium rather than hydrogen gas by the time they got to the good old Hindenburg (and
As a history buff, I really enjoyed this book. The author looks at a series of events that occurred over a two week period in 1919 -- a fiery blimp crash (in downtown Chicago, which seems incredible now), the disappearance of a young girl, a transit strike, and devastating race fueled riots. These events are viewed within the framework of Chicago politics of that time, primarily based on the leadership (or lack thereof) of then mayor "Big Bill" Thompson and his nemesis, governor Frank Lowden.

Paul Pessolano
“City of Scoundrels” by Gary Krist, published by Crown Publishers.

Category – History

What can one say about Chicago? A city that has been plagued by political scandal since the 1900’s, but has maintained its image of a modern and vibrant city.

“City of Scoundrels” is a story of just twelve days in 1919 that shows both the rotten and good side of this teeming metropolis. The story begins with the crash of the blimp, “Wingfoot Express”, continues through the search for a missing child, continues thr
I really enjoyed this book, mostly for the look back at Chicago at time that I am very unfamilar. One thing that I liked was that I could indirectly relate to this book, through my relatives who lived on Chicago's south side during that time. My grandmother was born on the south side in March of that very year, so her family would have been aware, if not witness, to some of the things happening, specifically the race riots that engulfed the south side. I'm a big history buff and if I can find so ...more
Pamela W
Apr 18, 2012 Pamela W marked it as to-read
I'm dying to read this. Having just moved FROM Chicago after 20 years, this just sounds like a typical week to me.
From July 21st through August 1st, 1919 Chicago was a city of turmoil. This non-fiction account of that time reads like a good historical fiction novel, but as the author states in the forward all the events are factual and no dialogue is invented. Mr. Krist draws from public record, newspaper accounts and personal diaries to piece together what happened during those 12 days. On a calm and comfortable Monday afternoon the Wingfoot Express blimp exploded over the city sending burning debris (and ...more
I’m not really sure how this got on my to-read list, but it did. It wasn’t bad as far as non-fiction accounts go; but I had kind of an issue with the representation of it as a history of the 12 days of disaster in Chicago.

It was clearly an accounting of a rather eventful end of July/beginning of August in 1919, but it was also commentary on the political corruption of the Chicago governmental machine. I knew about the Chicago fires and I have a bit of knowledge of Al Capone, but the period that
If you want evidence that things haven’t changed all that much in the great state of Illinois, read City of Scoundrels by Gary Krist. It’s a work of nonfiction covering July 21 to August 1, 1919 in Chicago.

A lot happened during those 12 days, more than I ever learned in school. The book opens with a prologue covering the crash of a blimp named the Wingfoot Express. The airship flew over the city several times on July 21. It took flight for the last time at 4:50 pm with five passengers. As it cro
Darcia Helle
This book starts by pulling us into a dramatic scene of a blimp crashing into the heart of Chicago. The author uses personal accounts to re-tell this story and it reads like the best thriller. Unfortunately, the intensity is lost when from there we go into an in-depth look at backroom city politics. We're given a tremendous amount of detail about the Chicago mayor and his run for office. For me, the detail was more than I needed or wanted and I found myself losing interest.

Eventually, we get a r
An energetic and readable summary of a simply ruinous two-week period that hit Chicago in July 1919. Krist starts this history with a spectacular blimp crash (not a typo), before pulling back the camera and introducing us to the politicians, reporters, and other historical figures who would make their mark on Chicago. As he comes back to July of 1919, Krist weaves in a missing-child story that feels up-to-date in its breathless and constant coverage, a transit strike, a race riot, and the battle ...more
Having lived in Chicago for only 8 months, I am already intrigued by the history and architecture this city has to offer. When I saw this book, I knew I had to read it in order to learn more about this wondrous place.

This book ended up being ok for me. There were parts I loved and parts that I thought were so-so. I barely finished reading it before my 14 day checkout period was up which is rare for me. The actual events that took place in 1919 included the crash of a blimp into downtown Chicago,
This is not my usual fare--I'm more of a fiction person--but I like a change of pace. Gary Krist took a rather obscure series of events that occurred in Chicago during the month of July, 1919 and turned them into a fascinating account of how Chicago came to be the city it is today. This book would probably appeal more to people who are really into history or people who have a connection with Chicago. I lived there for four years in the 1970s and I love the city. But people who randomly picked th ...more
During two short weeks in 1919, the city of Chicago suffered a terrible air disaster (a blimp burst into flames and crashed through the roof of a downtown building), the tragic kidnapping and death of a young girl, a transit strike, and one of the worst race riots in the history of the U.S. Author Krist weaves the story of this calamitous time with that of the politicians (Mayor Big Bill Thompson and Governor Frank Lowden) who were in power. The narrative at times had me on the edge of my seat a ...more
This is a fascinating book about 12 days in July 1919 when Chicago was rocked by disasters that changed it forever. Gary Krist comes out of the gate with the compelling story of the first of the disasters, a dirigible crash, but then devolves into more detail about the politics of the city than is probably necessary. The first 100 pages of the book revolve almost completely around the machinations of a few political figures. While this serves as an admirable and somewhat necessary backdrop, it o ...more
This book tells a true story about Chicago and was very interesting to read history in an easy to read format. The politics section didnt interest me at first, but then that was the main point of the events. I never heard this story of events before and made me what to read similiar stories.

It was very very disheartening to read about how humanity reacts to conflict. I found it very sad and since I lived through the time of the Detroit riots, I could relate to the fear of the people.

It is scary
Bob H
A vivid and fast-paced account of two traumatic weeks in Chicago in the summer of 1919, punctuated by a fiery airship crash, a sensational murder trial, a transit strike and a vicious race riot -- as well as scandalous goings-on in City Hall and the advent of Prohibition. It's a story of bigger-than-life personalities like Clarence Darrow, Carl Sandburg, newspaper publisher Robert McCormick, civil-rights activist Ida Wells-Barnett, and, in the center of the story, Mayor William "Big Bill" Thomps ...more
(Note: I really wanted to give this book 3.5 stars, but couldn't figure out how.)

For twelve days in the summer of 1919, the city of Chicago came unhinged. During a hot, uncomfortable two weeks in July, residents witnessed a horrifying aviation disaster in the Loop; a massive race riot that spread across the city; a crippling transit strike that added to the chaos; and a sensational child murder that incited mobs and stirred emotions in a town already rife with fear, anger and paranoia. Author G
Sarah C
Really a 3.5. As a US History professional of sorts it is rare to find a topic I have not had at least a passing knowledge of in this field. This book highlighted an era of unrest just after the end of WWI. The book is well written, in a journalistic rather than scholarly style, and seems to be well researched. It is an incisive look at the creation of the Chicago we know today, and a great look at how politics is woven into our everyday lives. A good read for anyone interested in Chicago histor ...more
James Foley
First this is a good read. It's clear, it's focussed, it's not exactly fun but it is occasionally amazing. I question the author's opinion of Bill the Builder. I suspect anyone Colonel McCormick hated had more good qualities than the racist, anti-semitic, lunatic conspiracy hound. I'm also not sold on the author's evaluation. I guess it will require more reading. Any book that gets you so interested in its subject that you go looking for more is more than good.
I was not engaged in this short history. I did not find the writing to be particularly compelling. The best written part concerned the dirigible disaster, otherwise it was pretty tired and thin. Not much more to say on the matter.
Carol Carlson
Many interesting facts about Chicago, but tedious writing mars the information. Some facts, like the diary of a young woman, don't seem to add much to the information. However, it does make one think that things haven't changed very much in the almost 100 years since the events took place. I would have liked for more ideas of how these 12 days gave birth to the modern Chicago. Did the air disaster lead to airports outside the city? HOw did the disappearance of janet impact future police work? Ho ...more
The setting is Chicago. There is political infighting, graft, riots, strikes, murders, and disasters. The Mayor has a grand plan to beautify the city and make it one of the greatest cities in the country. Guess what? It is 1919, and the political party in charge is the Republican. In this nonfiction work, we can see that history does repeat itself. Names may change and the political parties in charge may change but human conditions remain the same. I enjoyed this book because I learned a great ...more
In 1919, Chicago seemed on the verge of transforming itself from a provincial Midwest city to one of the first cities of the world. It's flamboyant mayor "Big Bill" Thompson was poised to implement Daniel Burnham's architectural plan for the city, which would not only improve the city's looks, but also provide thousands of patronage construction jobs for his constituents.

But then, between July 21 to July 31 a series of disasters befell the city: a prototype of the Goodyear blimp crashed and burn
J Stanley
Being a Chicago Native, I had this on my list to read. The book is a great look into the city pre-Capone era and the beginning of prohabition. The inside look into Chicago polotics is eye opening and how they at times relate that its the same set up as today. Its interesting to show how the newpapers played a key roll and had multiple daily editions to keep the news current with the people of the city. As apposed to today with the internet. What I got from this book is a great example of politic ...more
The author covers four stories from 1919 Chicago: the crash of an early blimp into a downtown bank building, the abduction of a 6 year old girl, serious race riots in the city, and the political maneuverings of Mayor Bill Thompson. These are all items of interest, so why does the book fall flat? The research was in-depth and fastidious. Perhaps that is the problem. I never felt that Krist drew more from his topics than the actual events as reported. With the exception of pointing out that much o ...more
Gary Krist has an interesting idea, and a dynamic style of writing. Yet his priorities are clearly out of order. As a result, what is supposed to be a book detailing 12 days in an entire city ends up focusing mostly on the elites.

He spends far too much time detailing the rise and fall of Mayor Thompson, a man who may lay claim to being one of Chicago's first municipal populists, but who in the long scheme of things was just another corrupt Chicago politician. Whether for lack of research, inter
Janastasia Whydra
Although City of Scoundrels is interesting and an alluring title, the book is not all that scandalous. Yet, it does (partly) live up to the latter part of the title: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago.

Maybe it's because of modern desensitization, but I just did not agree with Gary Krist's opinion of what would be considered disastrous. Granted, it does appear for the twelve consecutive days during the summer of 1919, Chicago could not catch a break. A dirigible crash, a m
This wasn't even remotely what I was expecting going in. I had thought it would be spotlighting 12 individual days of horror (the Chicago fire, some of Capone's more notable exploits, major bank heists, etc), not 12 consecutive days in one month, let alone one year. When I realized what it was actually going to be like, I almost passed. I'm glad I didn't, however, because it ended up being really really good. I almost think it's better this way, anyway, showing the (nearly) two weeks of disaster ...more
I grew up with a mother who spent a lot of time in Chicago, although she grew up in Springfield, IL. Her mother was a real society matron and traveled to Chicago for shopping, the theater and luncheons with her friends. As a child myself, Chicago was as familiar to me as Houston which was only 70 miles away. All of this background contributed to my interest in and appreciation of City of Scoundrels but the background isn't necessary to enjoying this book. The author uses a specific 12 day period ...more
Second City Mayhem ...

This book was reviewed as part of Amazon's Vine program which included a free advance copy of the book.

More often than not, the city of Chicago always seems to take a back seat to all things New York and Los Angeles. With his CITY OF SCOUNDRELS, author Gary Krist details an eerie 12-day period of time in July 1919 when the "Second City" almost imploded following a series of subsequent disasters. Chock full of details and told in manner that gives readers an eye-witness pers
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