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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  972 Ratings  ·  73 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 rauco
Paperback, 704 pages
Published April 3rd 1997 by Simon Schuster (first published 1996)
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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. ;)
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 qui ...more
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.”
Alice Lemon
Dec 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-history
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 describin
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 reinforc
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
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 Marque ...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 dest
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 informa ...more
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.
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Interesting content but poorly organized and hard to follow sometimes
Edward Brown
Dec 17, 2017 rated it liked it
552 pages
Cindy Regan
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Comprehensive and fascinating history of the great city of Chicago.
Doreen Miller
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. Fantastic!
Jul 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: cities, history
This book is a decent "biography of place," with Miller's research and organizational skills placed front and center. This book is for people who love history's nitty-gritty details, even down to the nuances of the sewer system of a place--which is about as far as I read before I just could not push myself any farther. This book is also very good for anyone who likes to read about old dead men, many of them rich and known for their richness, which conveniently also made them decision makers and ...more
Fred Gorrell
As a former resident of Chicago, albeit for only a few years, this book helped me develop a deeper appreciation for the city. This was no mean feat, as I already think it one of the world's greatest cities in most regards save the weather.

While this book has appeared on the feature tables in bookstores often since its publication, it is a serious work of scholarly historical research, including exhaustive references. It is very well written for a work of such gravity; it does not fail to entert
Nov 06, 2016 rated it liked it
A very comprehensive history of this remarkable city from its origin to around the turn of the 19th century. I grew up about 80 miles north this city in Wisconsin and also took my first job there out of college. We did not mix well. Chicago's history is dizzying in its twists and turns and dynamic transitions, all captured well here in this narrative by Donald Miller.

From its start, an Indian word meaning either striped skunk or stinking onions, take your pick, Chicago became a city that embodie
Jon Molnar
Oct 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting history

The author kept his word in that his history of Chicago would be different from most other histories. His theme was economic-based. He focused on the geography, explaining the initial situation of how Chicago started in the location that it did. Then how the people I've came the obstacles of the location to build the city. Like many cities, there was no overarching plan. The city had problems and plenty of them. But then came the Great Fire, which provided a second chan
Mar 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History buffs, city dwellers
As I wrote to the author.

"I have just finished reading City of the Century given to me as a present by my daughter.

Hailing from New York, and transplanted to the Philadelphia area, with long stints in DC, I have no background or knowledge whatever of Chicago. Reading your book was a wonderful experience. I now have to go to my library and take out the Dreiser books I managed not to read when I was younger.

I am very glad I read this in hardcopy, rather than in an audio format because of the many
Apr 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
What a disappointing book. Despite its breadth, it relays mostly "interesting stories" about "interesting people" rather than much actual history. We'll hear about Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass [well, ok, only at the very end somehow mixed into the section on the World's Fair], but very little about the lives of blacks in Chicago. Or how the lives of the poor evolved. Or, really, anything except random stuff about Daniel Burnham or other towering figures' lives.

Somehow, despite being incre
Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-loan
This was a very well-written book summarising the history of Chicago from its founding until just after the hosting of the world's fair. Personally, the only things I find at all admirable about the city are the museums/aquarium, and the Blackhawks NHL team. My motivation in reading this book was to discover what ever had made the city a desirable place to reside. In reading this history, I learned many things that explain where its reputation for crime, corruption, and commercialism came from. ...more
Tim Harker
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
I would definitely reccommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the history of Chicago. This is a great overview of its history from its beginnings through the end of the 19th century. Covering many of the city's influential figures, including Ogden, Burnham, Pullman, Fields, and Addams, the book does a great job laying out the impact their contributions ended up having in Chicago as well as across the globe. It was a slower read for me as I felt fatigued by massive amount of info ...more
Matt Heimer
May 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
In 1833, there were about 200 people in Chicago; by 1890, there were more than one million. This book explains why, immersing readers in the cultural, economic and aesthetic history of 19th-century Chicago. (Special journalism-nerd bonus: Much of the narrative is lifted directly from overheated newspaper clippings of the era.) The tone can get a little wonky sometimes (especially in the sections about the evolution of the skyscraper), but on the whole it's a jargon-free and fun read.
Tim Sallinger
Jun 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
A pretty solid history of Chicago from its founding to about the 1894 Pullman riots. Miller does a good job of owning up to the bad parts of 19th-century Chicago (widespread municipal corruption, deplorable industrial practices, generally unrestrained capitalistic abuse) while still painting it as an essentially laudable, almost heroic history. Regardless of how you feel about the author's slant, it's an excellent factual account of the greatest city I've ever been to.
robert miecznikowski
A great city

As a person who lived in the city I found this book very informative. I knew much of the history of Chicago, but I did not know the details. I found that I was walking the streets and seeing the many characters described in the book as I read. The question is has anything changed?
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
On page 274, which puts me just about halfway through. So far, elegantly organized. Chronologically, of course, but with chapters intelligently focusing on key charismatic charcaters who are in turn contextualized within the socioeconomic and technological trends that were then spurring Chicago's development.

Also, I'll always go for Marxisty analyses. Duh.
Nov 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
The rise of modern capitalism in the United States chronicled through a highly readable biography of the quintessential industrial/commercial city of the 19th century (still one of my favorite places). The Fire, the railroads, the steel mills, Haymarket, Pullman, Marshall Field's, Sullivan and Adler, the White City - they're all here, complete with many little-know facts and details.
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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 Sto ...more
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“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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