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

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  2,817 ratings  ·  432 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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Average rating 3.61  · 
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Start your review of City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago
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, 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 Hinde
Mar 07, 2015 rated it liked it
This might not be as interesting to some readers as it was to myself, a girl born on Racine Ave. near Garfield Blvd. It jumps between several 1919 events within Chicago. Parts were intriguing, holding my strong interest. Within other sections, and in other minutia of alliances, mostly of Big Bill Thompson politico, not so much.

Knowing all the locations and logistics made it nearly a 4 star for me. And yet one or two of the premises so centrally highlighted? Well, there was not harmony before, a
Blaine DeSantis
Aug 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now this was a fun book for me - even though it covered a very difficult time period: Summer of 1919 in Chicago. First of all a shout out to Carly at LitWit podcast. She did not recommend this book, but another one by Gary Krist and that got me searching the library e-book shelves. They had this book and it was a super enjoyable and fast non-fiction read.
Set in the summer of 1919 this book documents all that happened that summer: Aviation disaster, race riots, Red scare, child kidnapping, corrup
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.

Jul 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, reread, 16
Picking up on a recent trend - chronicling lesser well known but nonetheless critical historical events - the author focuses on twelve eventful days during the summer of 1919 in Chicago. And what a twelve days it was for the Windy City, including the crash of a blimp in the downtown Loop area, the mysterious disappearance of a 6-year-old girl, a transit workers' strike and several days of race riots. Using just the right mix of newspaper and first-hand accounts, mini-bios of the personalities in ...more
Sean O
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent book. Weaving the tale of the 12 days in the summer of 1919 where four different tragedies plunged Chicago into a crisis of character.

I thought the book was really good and full of great history, but the last third of the book becomes a political biography of William Hale Thompson, an outsize and corrupt politician that somehow gets a pass because he spouted a lot of pro-Chicago boosterism.

The direction of the last third of the book really bothered me, and I lost interest
Apr 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, book-club
2.5 stars. The premise of this book is that there were 12 horrible days in 1919 in Chicago that utterly transformed the city and gave rise to modern Chicago. During those 12 days a Goodyear blimp crashed through a bank skylight, killing people on the ground and some of its passengers, a young girl went missing and was later found dead, there was a race riot and a crippling transit strike.

Overseeing all this was a larger than life Mayor, William Thompson and the Governor of Illinois, Frank Lowde
Aug 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, nook-st, ipad

“At 11:59 P.M. on Monday, June 30, [1919] every saloon, tavern, and beer hall in Chicago was filled to bursting. Men—and more than a few women—were packed three to ten deep at every bar, with long lines of would-be patrons snaking out into the beer-soaked streets.” “At midnight, wartime Prohibition would go into effect, and the entire city would be dry.”—page 114

The start of the Jazz Age, the beginning of Prohibition, a time of nascent Machine Politic
Jill Hutchinson
Apr 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
When we think of Chicago, that "city of big shoulders", in the early part of the 20th century, our first thoughts are Al Capone, bootlegging, and shootouts in the street. But prior to the rise of organized crime was the original organized crime of the city's government under "Big Bill" Thompson and incidents that set the tone for things to come in Chicago. This book basically covers the year 1919, especially twelve days in which the city came as near to destroying itself as it ever would.

It all
Jun 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 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.
Paul Pessolano
Apr 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
“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
Susan in NC
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Everything I like my popular history to be - entertaining, well-researched and informative, this book focuses on the disastrous events over 12 days in July of 1919 that brought parts of Chicago to a standstill.

Krist does an excellent job of setting the stage by giving readers a pithy, concise profile of Mayor William Hale Thompson, aka “Big Bill”, and the political machine he controlled. I was fascinated by the cynical prevalence of populism in Thompson’s reign, and the modern parallels I see in
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
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
Nov 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads
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
Jul 08, 2012 rated it liked it
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
I was sitting at my aunt's and uncles living room waiting for dinner to be announced, I began reading the Chicago Field Museum magazine, in which my Aunt and Uncle were members. i was turning pages rapidly when I stopped on a page where there was a young , 14 year old that looked like he could have been my Uncle Al's twin when my uncle was young. I checked the kid out and he had the name last name and my uncle and pop. Curious-er. and curious-er. No one in the family...not my aunts/uncles/my par ...more
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Krist is a good story teller and specializes in narrative history. He focuses on a few characters as the basis of a tapestry centering on a series of disasters that rocked the city of Chicago in the summer of 1919. This included a spectacular aviation accident, racial upheaval, a massive transit strike, and the disappearance and murder of a small child. A populist governor (whose eyebrow-raising maneuvers strike a familiar current tone) deals with the issues both in a direct and underhanded way. ...more
Tabitha Krug
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
(audiobook) It was nice to learn some history of Chicago, but the book had a strange pace. It started with the very exciting airship crash, then the next 1/4 of the book was just about the boring mayoral race. Horrifying account of the race riots--in some ways it seemed so different from today (when some politicians started suggesting, in response to the riots, that some segregation laws might be beneficial to the city), but in other ways it seemed too familiar (despite there being more black vi ...more
John Yingling
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
It seemed, as I was reading this book, that it could have been about the present-day: political corruption and backstabbing, racism, corporations looking out for themselves, unions going on strike, and child murder. It's a history told extremely well by the author as a series of stories, and each one is almost worthy of a book. All in all, it's another slice of history that I didn't know anything about, and now I'm glad that I do.
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, history, chicago
Timely reading these days.
Andrea McGinnis
Apr 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
Introduction to book sounded great. It got too deeply into character development and no plot... I gave up at 25%
Feb 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Mar 18, 2013 rated it liked it
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,
Apr 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jeff Crosby
Dec 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Written in the spirit of David von Drehle's "Triangle: The Fire that Changed America," Daniel James Brown's "The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics," or Laura Hillenbrand's masterful "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption," Gary Krist turns a historical account of the events of a short period of time and a focused place (in his case, 12 days in the summer of 1919 in downtown Chicago) into a spell-binding tale ...more
Dec 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved reading this engaging book! I took a history of Chicago class in college, and so I expected that there would be a lot of overlapping information presented here in Krist’s in-depth analysis of 12 days in Chicago’s history in 1919. The unique information really took me by surprise and I just loved the entire reading experience! Krist opened his book explosively (literally!) with a prologue recounting the first national aviation disaster - the crash of the Wingfoot Express. The p ...more
Jerry Delaney
Jan 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Krist's book covers events that occurred during a two week period in Chicago in 1919. If you enjoy history and/or Chicago you are likely to enjoy it. Krist is a marvelous storyteller, which makes this a popular history rather than a dry, academic exercise. But that doesn't mean an incredible amounts of research didn't go into the writing. There are many pages of detailed notes and a bibliography. No conversations are surmised and no thoughts are attributed to the people populating the book. Ever ...more
Jul 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Ken Dowell
Aug 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
1919 was supposed to be a good year. The war was over, the troops were coming home. But things turned quickly in Chicago thanks to crime, racial and labor strife.

In 10 days in July of 1919 Chicago experienced racial warfare that makes the disturbances of the 60's seem like playground squabbles. There was a transit strike. A marvelous new blimp burned up over the city and crashed through the roof of a bank. And the hunt for a child molester raised awareness of predators all around.

Scoundrels in
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