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Chicago: A Biography

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  174 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews

Chicago has been called by many names. Nelson Algren declared it a “City on the Make.” Carl Sandburg dubbed it the “City of Big Shoulders.” Upton Sinclair christened it “The Jungle,” while New Yorkers, naturally, pronounced it “the Second City.”

At last there is a book for all of us, whatever we choose to call Chicago. In this magisterial biography, historian Dominic Pacyg

Paperback, 462 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by University Of Chicago Press
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Jun 30, 2015 Connie rated it really liked it
This was a required read for a college course I took years ago; I wanted to re-read most of it so I could enjoy it this time (especially from the perspective of now living in Chicago for over 20 years) now that I've grown to appreciate the change, rich culture, architecture, and character it has to offer.
David Eppenstein
Definitely a thoughtful and informative scholarly work worth reading. While it may not appeal to the casual reader hoping for something that takes full advantage of Chicago's more than colorful history it is a resource that anybody needing to understand this city should employ. The book thoroughly traces the various forces that shaped the growth and evolution of Chicago. While the book is not quite as readable as Donald Miller's "City of the Century" or as entertaining as Emmett Dedmond's "Fabul ...more
Nicole Sunderlin
Sep 30, 2014 Nicole Sunderlin rated it it was amazing
I thought it was a great Biography of the best city in America!
John Harder
Nov 11, 2014 John Harder rated it really liked it
Chicago, A Biography meets my criterion for both history books and books about Jayne Mansfield – if you are going to bring up interesting points I want to see pictures of them. So rest assured that Mr. Paeyga had dug through the archives and finely illustrates the volume from when the Indians first paddled up the Chicago River and began taking Polaroids well into the recent era.

Paeyga stresses that Chicago is not so much a city, but a polyglot of ethnic enclaves, that somehow works. It is a dir
Feb 05, 2015 catechism marked it as on-hiatus
Pausing, though I'll probably come back to this. My problem is that I want a fairly broad history of Chicago from (roughly) 1900-1930. Not a history of what Al Capone was doing, or a list of who was throwing baseball games, or a biography of famous brothel owners, or a book about that time a blimp blew up over a bank, or whatever else was going on. I mean, I want those things, but -- there was a lot of stuff! I would like someone else to connect the dots for me. This book is like... the layer be ...more
May 21, 2016 Brittany rated it liked it
I think that Pacyga did a wonderful job covering such a broad timeline. I appreciated how he presented the material and contextualized the city in the larger events that were facing the nation. This is definitely a must read for those looking to learn about Chicago's history. I learned so much reading this book, and was astonished by facts I hadn't known had occurred a few miles from me. My only complaint would be that some information was highly redundant from chapter to chapter. Removing repet ...more
Oct 12, 2013 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good addition to my short shelf of books on Chicago history and architecture. Pacyga maintains a chronological structure to his book, but highlights certain themes within each chapter.

Consistent with his subtitle, he tells Chicago's story through the lives of its people, from bit players like Elmer Ellsworth, the first Union officer to die in the Civil War (pp. 51-52), to leading men like Richard J. Daley, who receives a very sympathetic portrayal from Pacyga. Where else but in Chicago could t
Keith Jamieson
Apr 05, 2014 Keith Jamieson rated it liked it
Poorly written and organized, and excessively slow (only the last two or three chapters focus on contemporary-ish Chicago: the majority of the book fixates on the nineteenth century). Redeemed somewhat by an abundance of interesting tidbits about the city, and some nice photographs. Generally, I think that this is a fairly poor treatment of an incredibly interesting city, with average results.
Nov 08, 2015 Lexy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Mr. Pacyga is a gem. If you ever have the opportunity to take his History of Chicago class at Columbia College, please do. He is amazingly well informed and incredibly knowledgeable about anything and everything Chicago. Even though Pacgya and I dont see eye to eye on the Cubs vs Sox issue (though we both reside on the South Side and had this discussion a myriad of times) he is the most outstanding professor I have ever had in my life and wish he taught more subjects at Columbia.

His book covers
Tim Lapetino
May 13, 2011 Tim Lapetino rated it it was amazing
This is a deep, wide and phenomenal history of the city of Chicago. From the first trading posts and settlers moving up the Mighty Mississippi to the lakefront lands that would become a city, to the politics and racial issues that make up a world-class city, Pacyga does a great job in covering a lot of ground. I've lived a large chunk of my life in this city, but it was great to read about the foundations, personalities and stories behind many of the events that shaped our Second City. Never pan ...more
going from the great cover art and the recommendation of a friend, i thought this would be a good read. i was wrong. there was nothing wrong with the facts of the book. nothing idiotic was going on, except for a real lack of proofreading (sooo many errors, maybe just bc i was reading the ebook edition). the author’s style of writing was just so much more stiff than what i like to read and to take two things i love (history and chicago) and make them boring for me made me not want to go on readin ...more
Jan 20, 2016 Cherie rated it liked it
More like a 2.5 star review. It is an interesting read, but not as focused on the history of Chicago's people. It's more focused on the politics and industry that created Chicago, which is an interesting perspective.
Apr 15, 2010 Rob rated it really liked it
This book had a lot of great info and is definitely worth reading, but after reading "Family Properties" I was disappointed that Dominic wrote such lousy footnotes - barely worth looking at, instead of adding insight to what he was discussing. This book gave me the impression it was a teaser for his history students at Columbia College so they would go out and explore the many interesting topics he brings up, on their own - perhaps for assignments in his class. I wanted way more than I got here! ...more
Matthew Green
Jun 21, 2015 Matthew Green rated it really liked it
This is a good, readable history of Chicago. I thought I knew a fair amount of the city's history beforehand, but I learned quite a bit from reading this book.
Although I didn't grow up in Chicago, I'm very fond of the city, having visited it many times throughout the years (in fact, I'm going back this August). I'll readily admit I was woefully ignorant of much of the city's basic history before, but no longer! The author is clearly quite passionate about his subject; the writing itself is clear and engaging, and although many pages were devoted to the activities of this or that manufacturer, I never found myself bored. A very informative read, throug ...more
Sep 11, 2016 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school, non_fiction, 2016
Most histories that have to cover a lot of ground have trouble giving sufficient detail to make events clear and meaningful without losing the forest for the trees. There are a few points at which this one misses in striking that balance, and at those points it can be a bit of a slog. Outside of that, though, a clear and (usually) succinct account of the city, with a good mix of economic and political developments that also does a good job of keeping the individual neighborhoods of Chicago in vi ...more
Nov 10, 2014 Kristan rated it it was amazing
Parts of this book were way more interesting than others, but I loved it overall. I feel like I know so much more about my city now, and it pointed me in the direction of things I want more information about. Chicago is a really amazing place.
Lillian Shuff
Jun 28, 2016 Lillian Shuff rated it did not like it
Shelves: unfinished
It jumps around and is hard to get involved in. I think there are a lots of things written about in this book that would have been fascinating, if it were written by someone who knew how to tell a good story.
Aug 10, 2012 Tobias rated it really liked it
A bit boring in places, but quite good on Chicago's history as center ring for America's industrial conflict in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Apr 12, 2012 Erinp rated it liked it
Readable and informative, kind of wish there was more about wrigley and the sears tower, but I know a lot about chicago now.
Feb 01, 2010 Gwen rated it really liked it
Very good! A great 1 volume introduction, hits most of the high points. Must read if you are new to Chicago.
Jan 04, 2011 Sarah marked it as to-read
Shelves: nonfiction, chicago
Plucked from the Newberry Library's Best of 2010 list:
Dec 01, 2015 George rated it liked it
Solid account.
Harry Dykeman
Dec 19, 2014 Harry Dykeman rated it it was amazing
Great overview history of Chicago.
The Master
Dec 28, 2015 The Master rated it it was amazing
Jul 22, 2011 Sarah rated it liked it
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Dominic A. Pacyga, PhD, is Professor of History in the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences at Columbia College Chicago.

Dr. Pacyga received his PhD in History from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1981. He has authored, or coauthored, five books concerning Chicago's history, including Chicago: A Biography (2009); Polish Immigrants and Industrial Chicago (1991); Chicago: C
More about Dominic A. Pacyga...

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“There seems to be a different Chicago around every street corner, behind every bar, and within every apartment, two-flat, cottage, or bungalow. City of immigrants or city of heartless plutocrats, say what you will, Chicago almost defies interpretation. In many ways Chicago is like a snake that sheds its skin every thirty years or so and puts on a new coat to conform to a new reality.” 2 likes
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