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

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  2,133 Ratings  ·  353 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
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.

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
Aug 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nook-st, non-fiction, 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
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
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
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.
Apr 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, history
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
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, history, chicago
Timely reading these days.
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
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
I enjoyed Krist's narrative style, interweaving a personal story into the tragedies he was highlighting. It gives a sense of the pressure that 1919 brought on Chicago, as the troops returned from WWII, and Great Migration continued. But technology was also changing how we consider what government should, or should not, do to keep her citizens safe. Refreshing to be reminded that we still concern ourselves with our personal civil liberties when we discuss the criminal justice system, and how thin ...more
Nov 21, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jun 13, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Mar 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 Schnell
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Another Prohibition-era narrative non-fiction book, City of Scoundrels does a fine job of bringing the reader into the Chicago zeitgeist of 1919. The premise is that a 12 day period in the summer of that year paved the way for Chicago's future, good and ill. There is, of course, a lot of backstory to be covered and analysis of how those events shaped the ciy's future so the actual story of those 2 weeks takes up less than half the book. Much of the backstory concerns the making of the political ...more
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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