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American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley - His Battle for Chicago and the Nation

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  784 ratings  ·  82 reviews
"This is Chicago, this is America." With those words, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley famously defended his brutal crackdown on protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention. Profoundly divided racially, economically and socially, Chicago was indeed a microcosm of America, and for more than two decades Daley ruled it with an iron fist. The last of the big city bosses, Daley ...more
Paperback, 640 pages
Published May 1st 2001 by Back Bay Books (first published May 2000)
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Adam It was co-authored by Elizabeth Taylor, who is an editor of the Chicago Tribune.

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Aaron Million
May 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Until his son Richard M. outlasted him, Richard J. Daley was Mayor of Chicago longer than anyone else in the city's history, ruling the city with an iron fist from 1955 until his death in 1976. The portrait of him painted by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor is not a pretty one. Daley dominated Chicago, and Illinois politics generally, by turning on people who helped him and crushing people who dared to speak out against something that he did or one of his policies.

While Daley today is best remem
Sure, I'll give it 5 stars because "it was amazing." Amazing that a bigoted thug like this could run a city for decades. My family is from Chicago, I now live in the 'burbs, and every weekend, you can see this man's legacy play out with the body counts reported on the west and south sides of the city. His racist housing policies destroyed families and lives. The political/patronage machine ensured corruption in every level of government, from street sweeper all the way up to presidential electio ...more
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've read this a few times now. It's one of the best Chicago books you'll get your hands on. ...more
Jun 27, 2017 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
Never has one family ruled a modern major American city for so long, and it all began with Richard J. Daley. His family’s rise, recounted through the prism of Chicago, is as much the story of a meat-packing town, the ward politics that kept Daley in power, and how much clout one can build off of broad shoulders and chits. —John R. Bohrer ( ...more
Scott Smith
Mar 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Everything you need to know about why Chicago is the city it is, exists within these pages. Not just because the younger Daley is in office now, but because his father's legacy, good and bad, is around every corner. ...more
Mar 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Janet, Michelle, Jen
Richard Daley was an only child, a rarity in his Irish Catholic neighborhood in the early 1900s. Apparently he was the only kid in the neighborhood who owned pajamas. One neighbor described the Daleys as the kind of people who had fruit in the house even if nobody was sick.

This book taught me about four-legged voting, which happens when a ward heeler [political worker:] accompanies a voter into the booth to supervise. If a voter took more than a few seconds in there, the ward heeler knew that th
Jul 31, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a solid, balanced biography. It emphasizes Daley's use of race to rise to power and rule. I spoke to two Chicago-connected friends, one of whom thinks the authors overemphasized race because it's academically fashionable to analyze through that prism. The other thinks this is wrong but because he knew some of the local players, he thought the authors were too hard on the way the Chicago-based black leadership dealt with Martin Luther King, Jr. when he went there. I don't have an outside ...more
Erik Graff
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Chicagoans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
There's long been a discrepancy between the numbers of books read and those reviewed. I endeavor to review everything read and have just discovered the means on Goodreads to track down those which somehow I failed to discuss.

This is an excellent biography. Unlike Mike Royko's amusing 'Boss', this one attempts to be scholarly and thorough. Its outstanding feature, so far as I was concerned, was its treatment of the growth of Chicago during his terms of office, a growth based on racist policies de
Brian Hamacher
Oct 09, 2016 rated it did not like it
The title is very misleading. As a native Chicagoan I was hoping for some insight into the man who ruled the city for two decades. Although there are some details about his personal life, the book is less about Daley and more about the racial issues that plagued the city in the 1960s and how Daley's corrupt political machine was involved. The bulk of the book, which is more than 550 pages in the edition I read, deals in detail with all the various housing issues, which can be a bit dry, unless y ...more
Megan Ensign
Nov 21, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: History buffs
This is a pretty comprehensive history of Mayor J. Daley. At times, I felt like the authors overstepped their boundaries--there was quite a bit of background history on Chicago that I suppose worked into the overall thesis they developed, but at times, it gets tedious. There are many other books on the history of Chicago that are far more interesting. They should have just stuck to Daley.

On that note, when is a comprehensive history going to be written on Harold Washington? In the loop, there ar
Aug 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
More than a biography, this book gives an in depth history of Chicago, including the politics, social policies and social movements that shaped it. The in depth history of machine politics gives me a greater appreciation for the people who have worked to have an independent government.

I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about how Chicago became the city it is today. I wish I'd read it as soon as I moved here.
Maggie Needham
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Not only did I learn a huge amount about Chicago history, but I am now motivated to learn more about Chicago history. Definitely recommend to anyone who lives in Chicago or is from Chicago. This provided to much perspective on how the city has been run and how it's been structured, both in terms of government and layout/geography. If anyone has any recommendations of Chicago history books, hmu. ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I was not yet five years old Richard J. Daley was elected Mayor of Chicago. We lived in a suburb that was not in his sway but, as with all big city mayors, his shadow fell over us as well. For this reason, several decades on, I wanted to read American Pharaoh because I believe that enough time has passed that it needn’t be written as a long editorial. Bullseye!

Mayor Daley led and sustained the last of the great political machines in the U.S. but held office through its dismantling. Cohen a
Steven  Passmore
Nov 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jesus I don't have a review of this book in particular but I read it during a strange time in my life without a doubt. First off I took it to Florida with my mother, who is sick with cancer, and because of certain realities involving the situation of my family we had to drive back from Florida all the way to Chicago. This, of course, after flying to Florida. My first day back in Chicago was an employee party for the holidays and I am just going to bluntly say I found strangers doing cocaine off ...more
Paul Downs
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Just finished this. 500+ pages of Chicago politics may not be interesting to many, but this is a story in which my family figures prominently. My grandfather, father, and uncle are repeatedly mentioned. I heard a lot about what is depicted in this book when I was a child, so it's interesting to see how a pair of reporters retold the same stories. Summary: Chicago was corrupt and racist, and ruled with an iron fist by Daley. That system had good points and bad points. Chicago survived white fligh ...more
Oct 03, 2017 rated it liked it
A very comprehensive biography of Daley, and at times too comprehensive. I found the intricacies of the various politicians to be a bit boring, but the chapters on MLK's campaign in Chicago and the '68 Democratic Convention were really interesting. The authors spent a lot of time building up the setting before Daley's reign but didn't remark on what happened in Chicago after his death; I would've liked a chapter on the after-effects, as it ends rather bluntly after his death. ...more
Vincent Solomeno
"American Pharaoh" is a comprehensive account of the life and career of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. The biography, like its subject, is as complex as it is thick. Running several hundred pages, this is an essential read for those interested in urban studies and mid-twentieth century American politics. Mr. Cohen's study of this towering figure is on par with Robert Caro's "The Power Broker." ...more
Dec 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
To read about neighborhoods, wards, precincts and other politicians in the book was nothing short of eye opening. As a Chicago native you can observe communities to this day and see the handprints of a political mastermind. The first few chapters are a little slow. When it gets to the civil rights movement with Dr. King goes quite in depth how ole man Daley neutralized the threat.
Jenn of The Bookish Society

If you've ever wondered how Chicago got where it is today, this is the book for you. An almost essential read to understand how the Daley's got and kept their power.

This book focuses on how Daley's power as Chairman of the Cook County Democratic party was like being the king of two countries. The Cook County job opened just as many doors as being Mayor of Chicago.
Going with the King analogy, he was not one to forgive and forget. The book goes into extreme detail about the logistics of how he bot
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for anyone who is interested in politics, not just Chicago politics.
Oct 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"With the national press streaming in, Daley tried to project an image of a busy city executive calmly leading a world-class metropolis. John Swearingen, chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana, came to City Hall to announce plans to build a $100 million office building downtown. Daley also found time on August 20 to appear in person at the dedication of the first eight low-cost prefabricated homes being built for Chicago's poor. The new homes were, he said, 'symbolic of the spirit of Chicago.' He u ...more
Bill Manzi
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A masterpiece that not only serves as a biography of Richard Daley, but shows us how the City of Chicago came to be what it is today. There have been some serious power brokers that have served as Mayors in America, but Richard Daley, in terms of acquiring and holding power, must rank at the top of that group. The book is detailed, but for those looking to see how municipal government works this might not be the book for you. In Chicago if Daley wanted it done it was done. Not a lot of grass roo ...more
Philip Girvan
Dec 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Mayor Daley was the last of the big machine bosses and the book does an excellent explaining what the Chicago machine was and how it worked. In a nutshell, bosses handed out patronage and those that benefited were expected to deliver cash and votes to the machine. Traditionally, the machine boss was not a politician. Part of Daley's particular genius was combining the roles of machine and political boss, and, once he secured the two, he controlled the city unlike any other boss before or since.

May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"'You would not expect Willie Mays to drop the ball just because Jackie Robinson hit it.'" (quoting Bill Dawson, 95)

"A joke was making the rounds in Washington that had President Kennedy, Dean Rusk, and Daley in a lifeboat that had only enough food for one. The three men had to decide which two would jump overboard. Kennedy said that he was too important. Rusk said that he was too important. And Daley said that the only democratic thing was to vote. Daley won the vote, 8-2." (278)

"In a matter of
Aug 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Chicagoans, readers interested in the civil rights movement, political machines, urban issues
Recommended to Kate by: A book store in Ann Arbor
This book explains how Richard Daley rose to become mayor and head of the powerful Cook County political machine. Daley and the machine used patronage jobs to ensure an army of workers who would help keep him and other machine politicians in office. His political power was stunning- there is no equivalent to it today. Daley controlled city councilmen, judges, and many Congressmen, which made it easy to get money from Washington for his city projects. (The book also explains how suburbanization, ...more
Nov 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Rarely has an individual as complicated--and controversial--as Daley strode the political stage (and, that's saying quite a bit, given the number of political personalities who have emerged from Chicago alone, not to mention the state of Illinois). It is difficult to determine the true motivations of such a figure, especially when that individual was, to some extent, merely a cog in a big-city machine, even as mayor. The authors manage to pull this off, however, by capturing not just Daley's per ...more
Mary Slowik
I rarely say this for non-fiction books, but American Pharaoh is riveting. A surprise page-turner. From the first page of the prologue, you get an excellent sense of why Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley was important, and why the narrative of his life is worth the read. It's comprehensive, and exhaustive. As one blurb puts it, the authors don't merely "check under the hood" of Chicago's Democratic machine, but take out the engine and examine every rusty nut and bolt. I mean, really-- this book is ...more
Mar 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
I decided to read this book because I was interested in the formation of the Chicago political machine, and its hold on Chicago. Boy, was I surprised at just how angering politics can be. The machine functions like (and nevertheless deals with) the mob. I like that all that Daley did to strengthen the greatness of Chicago, but there’s got to be a better way. He spent his whole career as a Democrat that kept african-americans in their place, but didn’t ever say anything publicly that would lessen ...more
Dec 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Daley was a fascinating, bigoted, devoted, charismatic, powerful, awful man - much of that in equal parts. He had a hold on Chicago that was unparalleled and knew how to both cater to constituents and get things done in the machine of his owm creation. While his acfions were abhorrent and somewhat tough to swallow, the story itself is a page turner. It makes me wonder how we ever got through 1968 and how defeating it musg have been to be on the Republican side of the street for much of Daley's m ...more
May 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent history of Chicago in the middle decades of the 20th century. From public housing, to the 1968 convention, to the growth of the Machine in Chicago politics, this covers the basics. It's less of a biography of Daley and more of a biography of Chicago, and unfortunately in the process flattens Daley's complicated life into a near cartoon-like racist, scheming, maniacal control freak. Don't get me wrong, he's a complete SOB - I just think the book portrayed him as the devil whi ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Elizabeth Taylor 3 31 Apr 22, 2015 12:34PM  

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