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Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties
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Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties

3.40  ·  Rating Details  ·  162 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
“Things began as they usually did: Someone shot someone else.” So begins a chapter of this sharp, fearless collection from a master storyteller. Revisiting seventeen Chicago murder cases—including that of Belva and Beulah, two murderesses whose trials inspired the musical Chicago—Michael Lesy captures an extraordinary moment in American history, bringing to life a city whe ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published February 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published February 1st 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 499)
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Jan 20, 2008 Nan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was so totally disappointing. I was hoping for an essay that would help explain the patterns in crime in the city during some earlier era. Instead, it reads like a really bad version of E! in which each chapter is about someone who killed someone else. Sensationalist and pointless. Made me feel dirty for reading and not in a good way.
Jun 16, 2012 Jeanne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Non-fiction books from the 1900's - 1920's are among my favorites in non-fiction, especially when they focus on Chicago. I thought this book would be a no brainer. It started off well enough but I found the overall book very inconsistent. The chapters concerning organized crime in particular suffered from a weak writing style and I often found myself lost. Then there are other chapters where the subject was "simpler" and you could sense the book's potential (but then you get to the next chapter ...more
Jun 04, 2012 Luci rated it it was ok
This book as well researched but Lesy's writing style leaves a lot to be desired. The cohesiveness of the book wasn't apparent until the end and then Lesy tries really hard to make it clear what ties the murders in this book together (other than the fact that they occurred in Chicago during the 1920s. The Mafia stuff in this book is pretty good, in fact I feel like that was his strong suit. I did like how he would mention specific people in one chapter and then they would come in another one. No ...more
Apr 08, 2008 Andy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
About 3/4 of this was really good. This is actually 20 or so True Crime stories based on 1920's Chicago Tribune articles and photos. The vintage photos(Lesy also did Wisconsin Death Trip) are fantastic, I'd call most of them Courthouse or Jailhouse portraits. However, the photos should have been reproduced on glossy paper instead of the same paper as the text. The good 3/4 are unrelated stories mostly about women killing their husbands/boyfriends and vice versa and other poorly executed crimes. ...more
Dec 26, 2010 Caitlin rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010
This wasn't exactly what I anticipated. I suspect I'm jaded by the Luc Sante book, Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York - an excellent history of all kinds of dubious activities in New York of the 1840's through the 1890's. It's social history at its best, illuminating the underground history of a major American city.

Chicago in the twenties is interesting in its own way, but perhaps most of all for the sheer amount of murders and murder trials that occurred during the time period. The tabl
Matthew Brady
Jan 27, 2014 Matthew Brady rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at murder cases in Chicago from throughout the 1920s, ranging from domestic disputes and robberies gone wrong to some of the famous gangland slayings that are part of Chicago legend. There was obviously tons of research that went into this, and you definitely get an idea of what life was like at the time, what interested and affected people, how the legal system approached the various cases, how politics influenced everything, and how attitudes about crime progressed as the ci ...more
Sheryl Tribble
Although this covers a lot more events and generally does a good job of relaying the facts, I liked The Girls of Murder City better because that one felt more cohesive and because I got a feel for the author's perspective. This book feels like a series of newspaper articles rather than a book, where the author is just trying to throw out the facts in an entertaining fashion. The frequent and well-integrated photographs just add to that impression.

I also got lost a lot in the gangster chapters, w
Apr 13, 2016 Will rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Michael Lesy wrote one of my favorite books, Wisconsin Death Trip, an eerie and unsettling album of photos, news items, and other ephemera from Wisconsin in a particularly mysterious period of its history, the late 1800s-early 1900s. Murder City is a more straightforward look at Chicago in the murderous 1920s. Instead of focusing on the usual Al Capone crimes, it veers more toward other crimes that marked the city at the time, some spectacular, some mundane, not all of which are solved. At botto ...more
James Howald
As is typical in these types of books, he got a little preachy at the end about his interpretation of the events he's writing about. However, he wasn't too bad about it. Overall, the book was really good. While he brought up the murders of Dean O'Banion and other gangland killings, the bigger focus was on the "regular" murders that were dotting the papers in those years. I liked that he just told us what happened and who was involved in as good a narrative as possible with the information availa ...more
This book reads like an interview with a south-side, blue collar guy. It tends to get a bit crazy with the name dropping, but once you learn the extensive cast of characters, it's an extraordinarily interesting read.

Although this focuses on the violence and murder of the Chicago 1920s, it does not deal with the Leopold and Loeb murder of Bobby Franks, nor does it deal with the St. Valentine's Day massacre. The reason given was that these two cases have been covered in such great detail that ther
Aug 15, 2011 Lizzie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
History told with newspapers and photos of the day, in this case of various murders and crimes in Chicago, by the author of Wisconsin Death Trip. Chicago in the 20s had a much higher murder rate than New York or any other major city (there were smaller cities with as much murder but no other big cities.) Some of this can be explained by the fact that the police department had been corrupt for years. He gets right down to cases with an account of a man who suddenly decided to kill his wife so he ...more
Mar 04, 2016 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
While the topic of this book was interesting, the writing style made it almost impossible to get into. The author overuses to the extreme short, clipped sentences that seem intended to make the material more sensational and dramatic. This, combined with the dry lists of facts and the continuous repetition (we were told at least a dozen times that the modern equivalent of money is at least ten times the value in 1920s dollars) made each chapter seem to drag on forever.
Murder City was not exactly what i thought it was going to be; however it was still a good read and I enjoyed it.
The way it was written was that each chapter focused on a particular person or crime, which made it easy to pick up and put down again without getting confused or lost in a story. There was also a decent amount of time dealing with woman and crimes and how easy it seemed for them to get off, despite the obvious guilt. Several stories were tied together, which I liked, most of them we
Jan 16, 2015 Dale rated it really liked it
I have finished reading this book and found it very interesting. I learned things about Chicago that I didnt know. I even learned something about the stage play " Chicago "from reading this book.
Sep 09, 2007 Rae rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No One
I liked the info in this book but it's riddled with a lot of inaccuracies that make it difficult to accept as fact. The author does a nice job of keeping the reader abreast of the incredible amount of murder trials going on in Chicago in the 1920s, which gives a real "you are there" feel to the book, but I don't think I read one chapter that wasn't wrong in some of its details, and more than once the author contradicts himself in the same chapter. A little more careful research (and editing) wou ...more
I really enjoyed this book. This was another find from the library and was in their recommended Chicago history books. It went through various cases in Chicago in the twenties. It skipped two obvious cases Leopold and Loeb and The St Valentine's Day Massacre. I enjoyed this book because it told how they figured out the cases including telling when the police coerced confessions and how the cases went down in court. All in all this was a very entertaining read for fans of 1920's history and true ...more
Jan 07, 2013 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an entertaining and informative reexamination of some of Chicago's more infamous murder cases. Lesy looks at well-known cases such as the deaths of gangsters Dion O'Banion and Hymie Weiss, as well as some that have been largely forgotten, such as the story of Carl Wanderer and the vanishing of Northwestern University student Leighton Mount. Lesy tells these tales in a hard-boiled, matter-of-fact style. The pleasure he obviously took in writing this book is infectious.
Jun 15, 2011 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I thought this book was going to be reminiscent of "The Devil in the White City", but it wasn't. It was simply a case by case description of some murders in Chicago. The only interesting thing in the book was the photographs. Other than that, the chapters weren't connected and there really weren't any characters. It read like an "Americas Most Wanted" episode.
Penny Rigg
While this was interesting, I was frustrated by the constant time jumps. I realize the author was telling the individual tales, but I had just read of one man's murder only to find him alive and well in the next chapter. I most appreciated the facts that explained, or at least attempted to help us see, the bigger picture that was Chicago in the 1920s.
Mar 23, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book had so much potential to be interesting, but the poor writing style and the CONSTANT reminders that 1920's monetary values are approximately 1/10th of todays values turned me off.

Also annoying was the author's habit of referring to photos that were published in the 1920's Chicago newspapers, but then not including them in the text of the book.
Jan 05, 2010 Chad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great book, though some of the snippets can be very depressing. Shows how hard it was to get a murder conviction in court before modern forensics. Covers all the big murder cases in Chicago in the twenties from starlet murders to the mob (including the dual murders that inspired the play Chicago).
Jun 14, 2007 Julia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book covering several murders that occurred in the 1920's in Chicago. The best part of this book is that it takes most of its information from newspaper reports at the time. Let's just say that journalists were a lot less PC back then. Great photos, too.
Jan 08, 2008 Zelda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
not as exciting as I thought - didn't really tie the different murders together that well, it was basically 20 short bios in the same book - plus the way he kept saying "remember to multiple all dollar amounts by 10 for today's currency" drove me crazy
Elizabeth Kral
Jun 22, 2014 Elizabeth Kral rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a history book of unresolved prohibition-era murders in Chicago. It is written by a newspaperman who took very little liberty with the facts. I found the stories facinating.
Feb 08, 2013 Andy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A random, albeit interesting collection of true stories of murder in and around Chicago in the 1920s, brought down mostly because of the sometimes unclear writing style of the author.
May 06, 2007 TJ rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Not what I thought it was going to be. Just short stories about murders and their victims in the 1920's Chicago. Interesting, but would have liked a little more retrospective or insight.
David Eppenstein
Does any city have a history like Chicago? Of course not. This book offers an interesting tour through the darker side of a city colorful story fills the entire spectrum.
Sep 19, 2009 Betsy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Meh. So far, it's kind of disappointing. It's sort of sensational, with dramatic pauses during, and endings to each chapter. We'll see if I can make it through this one.
Oct 15, 2009 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read a couple of the stories in this book, but just wasn't in the right mindset to finish it. I would like to give it another try at a later date.
Barbara Barclay
Feb 18, 2010 Barbara Barclay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at Chicago in the 20's and some of the infamous murderers around at that time. Great insight into the court cases, very interesting.
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Michael Lesy’s books include Angel’s World and Long Time Coming. In 2006 he was named one of the first United States Artists Fellowship recipients, and in 2013 was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. A professor of literary journalism at Hampshire College; he lives in Massachusetts.
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