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Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago

(Crown Journeys Series)

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  1,116 ratings  ·  142 reviews
The acclaimed author of There Are No Children Here takes us into the heart of Chicago by introducing us to some of the city’s most interesting, if not always celebrated, people.

Chicago is one of America’s most iconic, historic, and fascinating cities, as well as a major travel destination. For Alex Kotlowitz, an accidental Chicagoan, it is the perfect perch from which to p
Kindle Edition, 160 pages
Published (first published July 6th 2004)
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Melisa Resch
kotlowitz illuminated many things about chicago history and politics, which i really appreciated, since it is all kinds of confusing for newcomers. and his profiles were funny and touching. however, the book felt uneven to me. or maybe unfocused? such a big subject. and even though his philosophy is that a city is the people in it, how do you choose among the many remarkable people in a city the size of chicago? i think this was the problem here. i found myself wondering why kotlowitz chose the ...more
This book wasn't great but I liked learning about other neighborhoods in Chicago that I never make it too. I'd like to take a tour of the Pullman area and I learned of a restaurant on the west side I'd like to try. Cicero also sounds like a crazy place. The book was pretty light and probably not as memorable as "There are no Children Here" but it's still worth reading. ...more
Jan 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this collection of stories/essays was like having an old friend tell stories.

I wish I had read this when it first came out as some of the characters (Ed Sadlowski, Robert Guinan) are now dead, and I can only think some of the locations are also gone.

I was pleased to see the shout out to John Conroy in the chapter "26th Street."

Stephen Rynkiewicz
Grit, which could mean either dirt or determination, is part of the Chicago mystique. Nelson Algren compared it to loving a woman with a broken nose. Kotlowitz consciously models his essays on Algren's "Chicago: City on the Make" but keeps it real, reminding us of our discomfort with the city's seedy past and needy present. ...more
Jan C
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chi, library, audio, 2014
This was a great listen. From Manny's to Edna's to Betty Loren-Maltese ad the disaster that Cicero has always been. Luckily the Bud Billiken Parade went better in the year of this book than it did this year (there were killings, of course). And plaudits to his saluting Nelson Algren's great book, Chicago: City on the Make - a book I found sitting on my father's shelves a good number of years ago and loved at first sight.

Approaching the city from the South one day, after an architectural associa
Feb 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is the anti-guide book to learning about Chicago. The neighborhoods and stories that the book discusses are the often overlooked, hidden tales. Despite having grown up near the city, I found it fascinating. The accounts are from people who had an impact on Chicago, its people and a few neighborhoods in various ways. The style of the book reveals intimate details that only a trustworthy author with a commitment to the Chicago and its people could garner. I am so glad that I could sit in ...more
May 22, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As far as city guides go, I can't say I'm that big into them. Most of the time, I'd rather just explore on my own, make my own mistakes, that sort of thing. I'd read another one in this series (Chuck Palahniuk's Portland) prior to reading this one. I know I shouldn't compare because the entire series is based on the idea that every author write about his own city in his own way, but...

Alex > Chuck.

That's it. Hands down winner. Kotlowitz wrote with much more passion, much more involvement in the
Jill Goldstein
Yup, Kotlowitz is one of my favorite authors. Right up there with Patti Smith. A story about people and the place they live. Not about a place and the people living there. Kotolwitz writes of people that on some level are heroes. Because they stay, because they change with the times, because they do not let their surrounding define them. A lovely read that captures some of what makes Chicago so wonderful and multilayered. A definite recommendation to friends. And as a fellow Oak Parker, I am hap ...more
Mar 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
This book is so Chicago. Just like the city, it's fun, quirky, and diverse. The author clearly loves the grittier side of Chicago. The ritzier, Gold Coast/River North/Lincoln Park crowd is totally absent – which is fine. The father-in-law who improves a Gauguin by adding a cat and who fights for fair housing, the South Side painter who creates unofficial CHA murals of panthers, nudes, and Jesus, and the Vietnam vet who takes on Cicero corruption are so much more entertaining than any Lake Shore ...more
May 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is part of a series of "A Walk Through . . ." Kotlowitz writes about Chicago. The other Walk-Through books feature places like Rome, Nantucket, even Portland, OR.

Kotlowitz takes the reader into parts of Chicago I'm sure I would never have gone on my own. The whole book is little close-up portraits of city personalities. He portrays artists whose work is ignored in their hometown, but loved in Paris; a woman who owns a diner; a pugnacious man who fights mob-controlled cronyism in the su
Mar 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I admit - I went into reading this book looking to have my love for Chicago re-affirmed. I was not disappointed. Kotlowitz chooses a diverse set of stories for this book that provides a "real" (hence the title) depiction of the history and current life of the city. I especially loved that he includes Albany Park as the last chapter which is two blocks from where I grew up. I recommend this for all those Chicagoans out there or anyone wanting to learn more about the city. ...more
Jan 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Offers a look into some of the increasingly obscure areas of Chicago by recounting meetings with some of their most interesting (yet, common) residents.

Captures the working-man spirit of Chi and the melancholy that accompanies it's current disintegration.

Every Chicagoan ought to read this.
Feb 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy Kotlowitz's style of integrating background history into narrative. My only criticism of this book is that it is far too short to give a full sense of the city. He gives a disclaimer that it is of course not comprehensive, but I really don't see why he didn't add more vignettes. For someone who loves the city as he does, he certainly must have more tales to tell. ...more
Mar 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a great peek into parts of chicago that people don't usually see. at first i thought it was too short, but then realized that was part of the charm of it. i've always enjoyed kotlowitz's writing and this was no exception. i appreciate the way he is always working to give a voice to those that often would otherwise go unheard. ...more
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
This book reminded me of a Studs Terkel book (I consider that to be a huge compliment) - I enjoyed peeking into the lives of the Chicagoans profiled in the book and was especially happy to see the section about Manny's. Some people went to really nice restaurants after the Illinois Bar swearing in ceremony -- my parents took me to Manny's. ...more
Nov 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've lived in Chicago for a year now - I wouldn't have been ready to appreciate this book before now - but it's a wonderful set of stories about the political, racial, and economic realities of the city that are often hidden from clear view. A must-read for anyone who's moved to Chicago and finds themselves pondering its unique features. ...more
K.J. Kron
Jan 28, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting twist - take some not so well know people who have influence Chicago and tell their stories. It takes you to corners of of city an tourist wouldn't except to go. I read it before visiting Chicago. Although it didn't change what I came to see, it did give me a feel for the city and it's diversity. ...more
May 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just an awesome little non-fiction read that weaves through some of the more forgotten lives and neighborhoods of Chicago. Tells the story of a number of diverse people who have helped to create the ever changing fabric of a truly great city. Required reading for anyone who lives in Chicago or has ever visited and likely not strayed far from Downtown or Lincoln Park/Lakeview.
A quick read about a handful of Chicago neighborhoods and their residents. Kind of romanticizes the city too much. Some of my notions of the city were reinforced, but I was also surprised at times. The section on Cicero was probably the best.
Jan 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book. Kotlowitz tells the histories of various Chicago neighborhoods from the perspectives of some of their longtime residents. It's not preachy but illustrates that the city's history is more than just the Daleys and Marshall Field. Quick read too. ...more
Jan 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Profiles and stories about Chicagoan and the city they call home This book really helped me bond to the city while I was living there. Part of the "A Walk in ____" series, I would recommend the series to friends based on the strength of this one. ...more
Jun 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone, but especially Chicagoans.
This was another great book by Alex Kotlowitz. It is much more uplifting than There Are No Children Here, while still real and gritty. I loved all of the individual stories, especially when I could relate to a certain neighborhood or group. Awesome book!
Jun 30, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Quick read about random people in Chicago. I really wanted to like it, but I was only interested in the little historical tidbits about different neighborhoods and areas of the city. I guess I just don't like random people. ...more
May 31, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this after completing a summer of working "in the field" with kids in the My Chicago program. It was a good snapshot into some key people in certain neighborhoods but I wanted more of a taste of the neighborhood itself. ...more
Josephus FromPlacitas
It was disappointing that this was an abridged audio version, I only saw it on the box once I'd checked it out from the library. Kotlowitz was not a bad reader and I would have happily listened to the whole book. ...more
Jun 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library_books, travel
Well-chosen set of neighborhoods (including the suburb of Cicero) as a representation of life in Chicago. I'd say it would be a book better suited for folks at least somewhat familiar with the city (as I am), than those who've never been there looking for background. ...more
May 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a chicago friend gave this to me before i moved to was a great preview of the many adventures that were (and are) just waiting for me in the windy city. it's a great read... ...more
Scott C
Jul 31, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in Chicago
Recommended to Scott by: Josh
Pretty cool description of the various parts / people of Chicago. I kinda lost interest. Non-fiction isn't my deal. ...more
Aug 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: visitors to Chicago
Shelves: non-fiction
This was fun to read in Chicago-- a non-tourist view to contrast with my decidedly tourist experience.
Sarah Noonan
Jan 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Super interesting history of Chicago. I learned a lot and it's highly readable, and short! Really a great book. ...more
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Between writing books on urban affairs and society, Alex Kotlowitz has contributed to "The New York Times Magazine", "The New Yorker" and public radio’s "This American Life". Over the past three years, he has produced three collections of personal narratives for Chicago Public Radio: "Stories of Home," "Love Stories" and "Stories of Money." Stories of Home was awarded a Peabody. H

Other books in the series

Crown Journeys Series (1 - 10 of 15 books)
  • Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon
  • Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown
  • After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti
  • City of the Soul: A Walk in Rome
  • Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital
  • Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg
  • Blues City: A Walk in Oakland
  • Lost in My Own Backyard: A Walk in Yellowstone National Park
  • Time and Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket
  • Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
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“Merton. Gethsemani required a vow of silence, and at dinner if you wanted salt, you had to stare hard at the shaker until another brother noticed. One day, cutting down a tree, Jack couldn’t contain himself. He held his head back and roared, “Timber.” After that, his days at the monastery were numbered. Within a couple of years, he had married, and he and his young wife, Fran, who herself had just spent a year in a nunnery, opened a Catholic Worker farm in eastern Missouri for recovering alcoholics.” 2 likes
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