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City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,356 ratings  ·  90 reviews
The epic of Chicago is the story of the emergence of modern America. Here, witness Chicago's growth from a desolate fur-trading post in the 1830s to one of the world's most explosively alive cities by 1900.

Donald Miller's powerful narrative embraces it all: Chicago's wild beginnings, its reckless growth, its natural calamities (especially the Great Fire of 1871), its
Paperback, 704 pages
Published April 3rd 1997 by Simon Schuster (first published April 1st 1996)
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 ·  1,356 ratings  ·  90 reviews

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Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
A sprawling, comprehensive history of Chicago in the 19th Century, when the city rose from a swampy trading post to one of the greatest industrial metropolises of the world. My only reservation is that I’ve already read about many of Miller’s major subjects (Pullman, the stockyards, the 1893 World’s Fair, Jane Addams) in book-length studies elsewhere, so much of this wasn’t new to me. Still, his sections on early French exploration, the first white settlers, architecture and journalists were ...more
Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I gained much knowledge about my hometown by reading this. I knew the general history but not all of the details. The recent shutdown of a political candidate's visit made me proud of my city & as I am miles away from visiting there at the present moment, needed a reminder of all I love about the Windy City. This was sufficient....for now. ;)
Maggie Needham
Sep 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Here are some things I learned from this book:
- They have to literally lift up all the buildings one time to put in a sewage system and everyone went out to watch the buildings rise like a foot off the ground????
- Saloons used to have free lunches!!!!
- The population grew so quickly I can't imagine living somewhere the changed so much over the course of a lifetime.
- Frank Lloyd Wright said that "The Art Institute is a stupid building."
- Ida B. Wells is rad af I need to read more about her.
Logan Crossley
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
19th century Chicago grew from the seed of a town to a heaving colossus by the lake. This book documents that magnificent rise and the people whose hard work, blind luck, and limitless ambition made it so.

Walking around Chicago today, after reading City of the Century, one can feel the background radiation of that early energy still rippling through the bustle. Trips to the museum campus and to the site of the old Haymarket Square are made in the company of ghosts.

I appreciated Miller’s
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Dense and exhaustive. Occasionally I'd zone out, though, which made reading this tome take a while. Essential for Chicagoans interested in local history.

(view spoiler)
Lauren Hiebner
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A well written history of Chicago from its founding, the challenges of building city infrastructure, the Chicago fire, to the 1893 Exposition. Miller also gives a brief biography of all the people that made Chicago truly the “first American city.”
Tim Martin
May 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was an epic history of Chicago and indeed much of 19th century America, as true to the title, much of what happened in Chicago had lasting impacts on the rest of the United States in the 19th, 20th, and even arguably the 21st centuries. The book can be read several ways, the author succeeding in my mind in each of these ways; it can be read as a history of Chicago from its founding to the end of the 19th century, with most of the emphasis on the 19th century. It can be read as a history of ...more
Alice Lemon
I was honestly a little surprised by how much I ended up liking this book. The beginning of it felt oddly old-fashioned: the descriptions of Marquette and Jolliet's expedition to the northern Mississippi felt like it belong in an earlier generation of history books. However, as the book went on, it felt more modern and, in particular, did a really good job of covering the labor movement and the plight of working-class Chicagoans.

I was quite happy with Miller's prose, and his imagery in
Patrick Smith
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read the first 75% or so of this book last year and then I couldn't find my kindle charger, started reading other things and just finally got back to finishing it. I don't think it would be as enjoyable for people that don't live in Chicago but I loved it and learned a lot. My favorite part was learning my streets and places have the names they do. If you want to have a bunch of fun facts to impress and eventually annoy your friends and/or significant others when you're out and about around ...more
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Fantastic Voyage into Chicago's History

Grab my hand and step onto this river tug, this workhorse that takes you through Chicago's history. This is perhaps one of the best traditional histories I've ever read. The elegant way in which we are taken from the founding of Chicago to the Pullman Strike is just delightful I kept wondering how he'd cover this or that but he slides into new topics like smooth sherbet. As a Chicago land native I learned a tremendous amount about my homeland and
Adrian Buck
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Superb, and very similar in form to Budapest 1900. But more emphasis is given to the impact of technology in the development of the world's first industrial metropolis (Manchester?). I for one needed to know the role of the typewriter in the opening up of clerical work to women, the consequences of which the industrial world is still living with: and failing to address.
Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I was entirely absorbed by this book, which chronicles the rise and fall (and rise and fall) of Chicago from the explorations of Marquette and Joliet and its inception as a fur-trading outpost through the class struggles of the Pullman strikes in 1894. Donald Miller drew such thorough and fascinating pictures of each era that with every chapter I wished that I could go back in time to experience the Chicago he described.
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
I made it 121 pages and had to give up. It's not a bad book, so far pretty good, I'm just not in the headspace for a history of rich white men right now. Maybe some day I'll try it again
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I plowed through this dense history of Chicago over the past week in preparation for my trip to the Windy City. I wouldn't say it was enjoyable, but it was very educational! Chicago is unique in that it went from a muddy frontier outpost to a world class city in the space of 50 years, so I really wanted to understand how this came about.

Chicago, plain and simple, is a child of capitalism. It didn't grow by the banks of the river because it was an ideal location for a city, but because the
Richard Brown
Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it
City of the Century is a well-conceived comprehensive survey of the social, economic, and political factors that led to the rapid development of Chicago in the nineteenth century. I’m familiar with the city and found the history interesting and learned some new things about the city. Those who don’t have a particular interest in Chicago, however, may have a harder time getting through this book that sometimes gets bogged down in detail. Although the book covered the period from Joliet and ...more
Luis Roberto Reyes Romero
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
An epic journey through the birth of Chicago. Cities are, in my view, man's most important invention and in this book, we see one of the world's greatest cities being created from nothing in less than 50 years. At some point, Chicago was the second biggest city in the world and it looked poised to surpass New York in might and influence. We all know that didn't happen.

In this history of the city, my city, for now, I find cues into the issues that stopped Chicago from realizing its manifest
Jun 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
This audiobook was a good way to get to know Chicago history focused on the 19th century while also getting to know the mythology around Chicago -- the brashness, the big shoulders, the ambition, the muscular bravado. It focused a little more on the "great men" of Chicago than I would have liked -- of course these are all white settler men -- but it did point out the contradictions of the unbridled capitalism that characterized early Chicago and the resulting mass labor movements. The ending ...more
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Impressive and enjoyable

I appreciated the depth but approachability in Miller’s writing. It was fun to read about Chicago becoming and re-becoming a new city as I myself am becoming a new resident, experiencing the place for the first time.

And as someone coming to this book with basically no knowledge of Chicago history, I was struck by how many “big names” started or came to prominence here, from Pullman to Debs to Wright to McCormick to Field and many, many more.

Read this if you have an
Dec 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent historical account of the building of Chicago. Each chapter had its own general theme but were structured similarly. This is definitely a 'history book' with little narrative content, but is interesting enough to keep most entertained. I would recommend focusing on the chapters that seem most interesting to you, or else the book might become overwhelming. I found myself reading certain sections a lot closer and more detailed than others, simply so I wasn't flooded with too much ...more
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Audible version. This is the best general history of Chicago that I have read. (this does not include Nature's Metropolis, which I would label an economic history). Quite sweeping in scope and decently written. Initially I thought it had too much of a civic booster focus, but over the course of the book, it explored corruption, poverty, racism and other less flattering topics. Ends at the end of the 19th century, as implied by the title. I bought the book as well to use as a reference as I think ...more
William Brown
Jan 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very long, (850) page, but very interesting history of the building of Chicago in the 19th Century, from its founding thru the 1893 Columbian Exposition. It focuses on the men, particularly the businessmen, who created it, from the canals to railroads, meat packing, architects, industrialists, bankers, and civic leaders. It's a long book, but a very interesting one, particularly if you are from there and always wondered who all those streets were named for.
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on Chicago history out there. Amazing tales from the first 70 years or so of America's greatest city (IMO). It's big and a touch dense at times but really gives a complete picture of the founding of Chicago and everything you'd want to know about the Columbian Exposition and a lot more.
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chicago has a rich history and I really enjoyed listening to it all. This book is very dense. It wasn't a great audiobook in that it was difficult to keep pace with the people and years as it was jumping around based on core points (architecture, worlds fair, etc) instead of being a general timeline.

Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Great White City

This is an eye-opening narrative history of the Windy City with all its faults and glory. It was very interesting to learn all the connections with the rest of America’s industrial and intellectual history especially of the 19th century. Well worth the read!
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book with vivid description of the city, its history and the visionary men behind such great city.
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
I'm going to have to give up on this one. It's just really not interesting.
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Interesting content but poorly organized and hard to follow sometimes
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, chicago
Possibly the best book I’ve read on Chicago history, and I have read many a book on said history.
Nancy Marandi
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to the writer to write this book i love this a lot thanks.
Cindy Regan
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Comprehensive and fascinating history of the great city of Chicago.
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Dr. Miller is the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College and an expert on World War II, among other topics in American history. Three of his eight books are on WWII: D-Days in the Pacific (2005), the story of the American re-conquest of the Pacific from Imperial Japan; Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany (2006); and The ...more
“Chicago was “the only great city in the world to which all its citizens have come for the one common, avowed object of making money,” 0 likes
“As one historian has neatly put it: The futures market is a place where “men who don’t own something are selling that something to men who don’t really want it.” 0 likes
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