Wednesday, August 1, 2012

City of Scoundrels by Gary Krist

Read while home alone? probably, but it gets a little graphic in parts
Tissues needed? no
Overall rating: 4 stars

City of Scoundrels is a nonfiction account of Chicago during the summer of 1919 when chaos reigned. A blimp on a test flight over the city crashed, a little girl went missing, the transit workers went on strike, and there were horrible race riots. Mayor Thompson was loved by many, but not by most of the local papers or by the Illinois governor. How can all of this bedlam lead to a modern city?

In the author’s note at the beginning Krist writes that the book is purely factual. He didn’t create dialogue or embellish facts. This concerned me. I thought City of Scoundrels would be a really dry, tough to read history text. I was wrong. Krist’s writing style was smooth and kept my interest. It wasn’t a fast read for me, but it was enjoyable. I did skip some of the descriptions of destruction—I had a good enough picture in my head and didn’t need it to be elaborated. This style has made me curious about Krist’s other books, and I’m going to check them out.

Beyond the writing style, I enjoyed the content. I think Chicago is an awesome city, but I had no idea about its history. The book made me curious about how native Chicagoans would respond to it. Certainly that summer, specifically 12 days of it, were action packed and altered many things, but what other time periods could be written about in this way? If you like history and/or Chicago, this is the book for you!

This just in:
After I mentioned this book to a couple of friends, they recommended that I read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It's also set in Chicago, but in the 1890's during the time of the World's Columbian Exposition. It details the creation of the fair, as well as the activities of a serial killer in the area. 

The Devil in the White City was more history book than story for my tastes, so I didn't find it as compelling as City of Scoundrels. It was interesting, though, to read about some of the people: George Pullman, Phillip Armour, Marshall Field, and Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as items introduced at the fair: Juicy Fruit, electric dishwashers, shredded wheat cereal, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, to name a few. 

Like City of Scoundrels, Larson's book details another era that changed Chicago...and the rest of the world. I didn't enjoy The Devil in the White City as much, but again, if you're a fan of Chicago and/or history, you should give it a try.

What time period would you use for your city/state to illustrate the biggest changes? Does your city have as much rich history as Chicago? How would things have been different in Chicago if any one of the big events of 1919 had NOT happened? And what if the World's Fair hadn't come to Chicago?

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