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Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle
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Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  301 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
Informal and picturesque, Skid Road is the story of Seattle during its first hundred years, seen through the lives of the vigorous personalities of its settlers and early citizens. This handsomely illustrated revised edition brings Seattle's history up-to-date and provides a vivid portrayal of its past: pioneering, Indian warfare, lumber, railroads, the great fire of 1889, ...more
Paperback, 296 pages
Published February 1st 1982 by University of Washington Press (first published 1951)
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Sep 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Amy by: Pam
2.5 stars. I found parts of Skid Road to be very entertaining. I really liked the treatment of Doc Maynard (a most excellent fellow), I appreciated learning about how Chinese immigrants were demonized in Seattle during the 1880s, and I enjoyed learning that women got the right to vote in Washington (and thus Seattle) in 1883 (lost it in 1888), and regained it again in 1910. Women were not give the right to vote nationally until 1920, so I was amazed that Washington women were enfranchised so ear ...more
Dec 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Histories are often dry reads, but this one avoids that by focusing on the often outlandish personalities and stranger-than-fiction politics of early Seattle. The result is a book that's absorbing and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. Unlike many history books, which tend to end before the reader's living memory, this one has an additional chapter at the end that recounts events up through the early 1980s, albeit in somewhat less detail than the rest of the book. Footnotes are used sparingly an ...more
Sep 03, 2008 rated it liked it
After living in Seattle for 11 years, I figured it was time to learn more about its history then I'd gleaned from taking tours when my parents came to visit. The first few chapters are engaging and enlightening. Morgan's focus on the lives of the people who founded the town (particularly Doc Maynard) really fleshes out the events. I love knowing that the reason the streets still don't match up downtown is because Maynard and Henry Yesler were stubborn and refused to compromise. However, as the b ...more
Peter Christensen
Sep 23, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a history book, and requires a lot of context in order for it to be enlightening and entertaining. I stopped halfway through when I realized that it was not a history of Seattle, it was an close examination of several illustrative events from different periods of Seattle history.
Remington Purnell
Mar 31, 2015 rated it liked it
Dry, as many historical texts are, but now I smile to myself every time I stroll down Denny Way or Yesler Street. What pricks. A must-read for any Seattle-ite.
Kevin Hyde
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and fun crash course of Seattle's history, focusing on the characters and circumstances that shaped and were shaped by the regions commerce and politics. There are some great anecdotes that give the characters life and overall you get a strong sense of how the challenges of the frontier shaped the Seattle spirit.

In some sections, particularly those dealing with convoluted politics of the turn of the century, the text is pretty bogged down and hard to keep track of all the names of
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting survey of Seattle from its founding to the 1970s. A great book if you want to learn about the people and movements that shaped Seattle.
Nov 11, 2017 rated it liked it
It was a memorable subject.
Natalie Bayne
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book took me forever to read. Not because it wasn't good (it was really good) but because it's only available in print. And since I usually read on my phone, I didn't realize that the lights above my bed had been out for a while. And since there was no way I was getting out of bed to change bulbs, I started reading something else instead. By the time I'd finished the new book, this one was buried somewhere on my nightstand under crossword puzzles and glasses of water and I'd completely forg ...more
Mar 02, 2013 rated it liked it
I would like to give this book more stars because of local pride, and the fact Morgan was writing about an almost-forgotten backwater in the 1950s. But this is one of those history books that should be read by someone who knows nothing of Seattle, sort of a timeline pegboard to hang things on when one decides to get serious. For example, Morgan makes no mention (or one-sentence descriptions) of the Curtis brothers, or Vernon Parrington, or Seattle's function as a stop on the Underground Railroad ...more
Jun 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Seattleites,urban historians
Recommended to Tom by: My mom
This is the definitive history of Seattle pre 1950, with some updating to the 1970s. It does miss Seattle's incredible growth since the late 1970s, and the whole Starbucks/Grunge/Microsoft thing that so enamored the New York Times in the 1990s. But it's good solid history of the founding of Seattle, the poor treatment of the Asian population (not just during WW II), and its various boom and bust cycles. The discussion of why Seattle didn't end up playing second fiddle to Tacoma is particularly s ...more
J.M. Hushour
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If ever adapted into another medium, this is one of those works of history that'd be narrated/personified by Sam Elliott or your drunken grandparent, always happy to kick their heels up, fold their arms across their chest and tell you stories of the good ol' days. That's precisely what this is: a story of Seattle's good ol' bad ol' whorin' and drinkin' days, before the city got all pseudo Super Bowl Space Needle respectable and all those kids with their jangled-fangled instruments screaming into ...more
Erin Gayton
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I agree with other readers who note the uneven nature of this book, but the first half of the book is so strong that I think it warrants 5 stars, even if you quit reading after the chapter on the great fire. I first read "Skid Road" years ago, and have never been able to get Morgan's characterization of Doc Maynard out of my head (particularly the image of him paddling his canoe up Puget Sound, the tall conifers crowding the water). Reading it a second time, there are moments when the book feels ...more
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An ok telling of the more unseemly aspects of Seattle's history. The writing is very average, at times funny and easy, elsewhere dragging and boring. The first part which covers the early days of the city is more cohesive and focused, thereafter the pacing and storytelling decline.

It's done in a very casual, slangy style that's going to make it feel progressively more dated as time goes on. The tone and delivery make me skeptical about how historically accurate the material is. It would be unfo
Jan 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Hmmmm, so I didn't like this as much as I wanted to. I've had to lie to a few people because they would just gush over how great this book is and for the sake of not getting into a conversation about it, I'd agree. But really I think I'm just not into historical books, unless they're memoir biography types. It's just that there's so much information crammed into 200+ pages that I quickly get lost. The book isn't quite a story, rather than lots of historical accounts. I enjoyed the information, b ...more
May 24, 2016 rated it liked it
I loved the beginning of this book; I learned so much about how Seattle formed and became a major city on the west coast. The book is a bit old at this point (it ends in the 50's and has an 'epilogue' that catches us up to 1982) and much of the latter part focuses on unions and such, which didn't hold my interest to be honest.

Having been obsessed with Seattle history the past few months, this book was great! I highly recommend it to those who love history, are intrigued by Seattle as a city, or
Donna Davis
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really like this book, a portrait of old Seattle. The Skid Road is now a major east/west street, but it was originally named by the book's title, because the lumber was cut and then shoved down this steep street to the waterfront for export.

The fifth star is missing because if you are not from Seattle or the surrounding area, it may not be of as much interest to you as it is to me. However, the late Murray Morgan is good with prose, and can make nonfiction sound like a fascinating tale he just
Josephine Ensign
Nov 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
Interesting although also infuriating in the lack of citations/sources of the numerous direct quotes throughout the book. Also has a misleading title since it is really an informal history of the (mainly) white men in power positions throughout Seattle's formation as a city. Only passing references (again unsubstantiated except for one UW sociology student unpublished thesis) to the residents of Skid Road.
Felisa Rosa
Nov 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The definitive book on the history of Seattle, which is sort of surprising when you consider that the author modestly calls Skid road 'an informal portrait of Seattle'. Everyone who writes about Seattle's history quotes Murray Morgan, probably because he was an evocative writer with a great eye for the characters and tidbits that make history fascinating. A wonderful book. If you are going to read one book about the city, read this one.
Sep 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Histories are often "dry" but this one isn't. Each chapter is a story in itself and each focuses on one or two individuals key in the development of Seattle. I really enjoyed the early chapters--the latter ones dried out a little. It's a good, solid, history that covers the good and the bad, the sleazy and the churchy. The stories of Seattle's good ole' days. Available for a buck seventy five on Amazon.
Wesley Andrews
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Installment #4 on my quest to learn more about my home, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

I just started Native Seattle, by Coll Thrush. Previous installments: Once Upon a Time in Seattle, by Emmett Watson; Pugetopolis, by Knute Berger; The Street-smart Naturalist - Field Notes from Seattle, by David B. Williams.

This quest was prompted in large part by Kurt Hoelting's, The Circumference of Home: One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life.
John Williams
First published nearly 60 years ago this is still a good read for anyone interested in the history of Seattle. The book takes its name from the logging pathway where the underside of Seattle developed in the mid to late 19th century. Most of the chapters focus on a period or personality of an interesting character. It makes you realize that at one time Seattle was the most radical city in America.
Maura Madden
Jan 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. It was a great history of Seattle. After reading this book I went on the Seattle Underground Tour. The tour was very intresting, but the book had been so informative that I found myself silently editing the information provided by the tour guide. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Seattle.
Aaron Carpenter
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
What an enjoyable author! With remarkable insight, understated wit, and charmingly droll turn of phrase, Morgan presents a series of characters set against their historical backdrop and shows how they - and their contemporaries - contributed to shape this fascinating city in their own image and to be shaped by it, in turn.
May 04, 2009 rated it liked it
It was well written, but it ran the gamut: from the fun and ridiculous of Seattle and ending, pretty much with an exceptionally long chapter on the history of union the same time interesting and boring. an interesting read even if at times it was tedious, but gave me perspective on this Seattle city since it's origins as a city.
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A ton of fun. Didn't know what to expect aside from saucy stories and salty old dogs, but was actually well-written, well-researched, and one of the more enjoyable books I've read in a while. Even having grown up in Seattle and feeling like I knew it pretty well, this brings out layers I had no idea were even around. Definitely keeping my copy for re-perusal at random.
Nov 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, northwest
I lived in Seattle for about 16 months in 1967 & 1968. My time there only gave me a snapshot of the city. This book helped me learn about the personalities who created the Seattle I dallied with. Perhaps it was just me, but it took a few chapters to get really engaged with the book.
Robyn O'Hara
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-power-of-one
Very good history of Seattle. Some nice Anecdotes, would have liked more pictures of "then and now" but got some good ideas of where to look none the less. Will look forward to exploring pioneer square now. Have good insight as to where and how the downtown streets got the names
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Subtitled "an informal portrait of Seattle, her first hundred years." Picks out key figures in Seattle's history, elaborating on their life and well as their historic setting and significance. People like Doc Maynard, Asa Mercer, Mary Kenworthy, John Consider and Dave Beck.
Mar 24, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: social-studies
Daniel B. got me this book for Christmas, as part of my plan to get to know Seattle better the way I got to know Philly better by reading Prayer for a City. Didn't quite work out that way, since this book was a lot dryer.
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“To know Seattle one must know its waterfront. It is a good waterfront, not as busy as New York's, not as self-consciously colorful as San Francisco's, not as exotic as New Orleans, but a good, honest, working waterfront with big gray warehouses and trim fishing boats and docks that smell of creosote, and sea gulls and tugs and seafood restaurants and beer joints and fish stores--a waterfront where you can hear foreign languages and buy shrunken heads and genuine stuffed mermaids, where you can watch the seamen follow the streetwalkers and the shore patrol follow the sailors, where you can stand at an open-air bar and drink clam nectar, or sit on a deadhead and watch the water, or go to an aquarium and look at an octopus.” 0 likes
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