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

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

3.3 5
by Adam Cohen, Elizabeth Taylor

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Now in paperback comes the story of Richard J. Daley, the last of the big city bosses, the patriarch of a political dynasty, and a major national figure in American urban politics. of photos.


Now in paperback comes the story of Richard J. Daley, the last of the big city bosses, the patriarch of a political dynasty, and a major national figure in American urban politics. of photos.

Editorial Reviews

Scott Turow
American Pharaoh is a unique gem. It is an enthralling narrative, a true page-turner, and also a needed work of history. It is the first serious biography of Richard J. Daley, the enormously complicated man who ruled Chicago for decades, and who, no matter how viewed, indelibly shaped not only one city, but the American political scene and national urban life." (—Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent)
Douglas Brinkley
I have read a lot of biographies, but none more compelling than Cohen and Taylor's brilliant portrait of Mayor Richard J. Daley. American Pharaoh is a tour de force." (—William Julius Wilson, author of When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor)
Washington Monthly
...fast-paced, comprehensive, and written well enough to evoke the sights and sounds of a great city in turbulent times.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like all good biographies, this first full account of the life of Richard Daley does more than tell the story of an individual. In the course of telling Daley's tale--from his birth (in 1902) to his death (in 1976)--journalists Cohen and Taylor also chronicle the history of 20th-century Chicago. They capture the grittiness of Daley's boyhood--the day-to-day of life near the stockyards, the importance of ethnicity in local neighborhoods and the city's seemingly paradoxical combination of parochialism and diversity, dynamic growth and resistance to change. Initiated into machine politics as a young man, Daley quickly embraced the machine's values of order, allegiance, authority and, above all, the pursuit of power. Later, he ran the city in accordance with these values; the authors explain that he always assessed his options in terms of what would both enhance his power and encourage Chicagoans to stay in their proper place. Cohen (a senior writer at Time) and Taylor (literary editor and Sunday magazine editor of the Chicago Tribune) use the most famous crisis during his tenure, the 1968 Democratic convention, to illustrate how the mayor's rigid values dictated his actions--but more importantly, they say, his myopic passion for order worked together with his deep racism to shape modern Chicago. And, they argue, his legacy is a cultural legacy--through him, early 20th-century ethnic narrow-mindedness shaped everything from the character of Chicago politics to its landscape. (Constructed during his tenure, Chicago's freeways and housing projects keep everyone, especially blacks, in their places.) Penetrating, nonsensationalistic and exhaustive, this is an impressive and important biography. 16 pages b&w illus. not seen by PW. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Cohen and Taylor are fastidiously fair to the famous mayor and do not take sides...Like their subject, they take Chicago very seriously.
The Washington Monthly
Alan Ehrenhalt
A splendid, serious treatment of Daley's life, the first full-length biography of one of the most fascinating and enigmatic characters of modern American political history . . .
The New York Times Book Review
Ward Just
This marvelous book—it is one of the very best narratives of American politics that I have read—is a meticulous account of the rise and long twilight of the most powerful city boss of recent history...
The New York Observer
Robert Royalty
...the definitive biography...Cogen and Taylor don't just look under the hood of America's last great political machine, they take the engine apart and examine every corroded nut and bolt...a compelling narrative.
Business Week
Kirkus Reviews
A monumental biography of Chicago's six-term mayor that elevates the coarse and cunning political boss to the status of an American icon. It's hard to argue with the assertion of journalists Cohen (Time) and Taylor (Chicago Tribune) that Daley was the biggest political boss of the last century. The only child of a working-class, Irish-Catholic family, Daley started out as a laborer in the city's infamous stockyards and, despite the fancy suits and limousines he later indulged as prerogatives of power, always claimed to be just another hard-working man who took care of the people who voted for him. In the city's working-class Bridgeport neighborhood, the young Daley did the boring detail work that local Democratic precinct captains didn't like, got out the vote, kicked back to those who favored him, and never forgot a face. More a plodder than a charismatic leader, Daley worked his way through law school, remained faithful to his wife, refrained from smoking or drinking, and never stole from the public trough—though he had no problems lying to the press and collecting two salaries (beginning in 1955) as both mayor and Democratic Party chairman. A stickler for clean streets, he surrounded himself with glad-handers, thugs, bureaucratic hacks, and ward heelers who doled out patronage jobs, exploited racist fears, and salted election returns. The darling of the national Democratic Party after Illinois provided the crucial votes that put Kennedy in the White House in 1960, Daley let the city's business elite launch urban-renewal schemes that improved the skyline while reinforcing racial and economical segregation. He became a national embarrassment when journalistswerebeaten by police during the 1968 Democratic convention, but (despite numerous scandals) he remained in control of the city up to the moment he died in 1976. A breathlessly engrossing history of a classic urban political machine and the powerbroker who ran it his way. (16 pages b&w illustrations, not seen)

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Little, Brown and Company
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5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.37(d)

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A Separate World

Richard Joseph Daley was a product of the bloody world of the Chicago slaughterhouses. Chicagoans of his day, both Catholics and non-Catholics, located themselves by referring to their local parish - they came from Saint Mary's or Saint Nicholas's. Daley came from Nativity of Our Lord, the parish church of his childhood, where he would be eulogized seventy-four years later. Nativity was founded in the mid-1800s to serve the poor Irish-Catholic laborers who were flooding the area to work in the growing meat-packing industry. The church's simple stone building stood at the corner of 37th and Union, on the fringes of the South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport and hard up against a vast expanse of cattle-slaughtering facilities. Standing on the steps after Mass, young Daley could smell the fetid mixture of manure and blood that wafted over from the sprawling Union Stock Yards to the south. The gurgling in the background was the cackle of "Bubbly Creek," a torpid offshoot of the Chicago River that got its name from the fermenting animal carcasses and offal in its slow-moving waters. If Nativity seemed like an unlikely place for spiritual repose, it had once been worse. The church's first home had actually been in the former J. McPherson livery stables. The name "Nativity" was a reference to the fact that the church, like Christ, had been born in a stable - an attempt to put a holy gloss on grim surroundings. Nativity's new building had a pleasant interior, including ornate stained-glass windows, but nothing could make up for the harsh reality of geography. Daley's spiritual home was located just a few hundred feet from what one parish history called "the greatest and bloodiest butcher shamble in the world."

The whole city of Chicago had a reputation for coarseness and for lacking the style and sophistication of older cities like Philadelphia or Boston. "Having seen it, I urgently desire never to see it again," Rudyard Kipling wrote after visiting in 1889. "It is inhabited by savages." Chicago was the industrial capital of the Midwest, a tough town dominated by factories that belched black smoke. Theodore Dreiser, who roamed the city as a reporter, marveled in his book Newspaper Days at the "hard, constructive animality" of the rougher parts of Chicago. It was not uncommon, he found on his rounds, to come across men standing outside ramshackle homes "tanning dog or cat hides." The Chicago of this era was a town in which displaced farmhands and struggling immigrants competed for space in ramshackle tenements and rooming houses, and hooligans roamed the streets. Block after block of "disorderly houses" did a brisk business corrupting hordes of guileless young girls, like Dreiser's Sister Carrie, who arrived daily from small towns in a desperate search for a better life. And it was Chicago saloonkeepers who invented the Mickey Finn, a chloral hydrate laced drink slipped to solitary patrons so they could be easily robbed. "The New York Tenderloin," journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote, "was a model of order and virtue compared with the badly regulated, police-paid criminal lawlessness of the Chicago Loop and its spokes." Chicago's moral climate was shaped by Al Capone and the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, and by the ignominy of the 1919 Chicago White Sox - the team that shocked the nation by fixing the World Series. "Chicago is unique," journalist A. J. Liebling would conclude after visiting for a year to research a book. "It is the only completely corrupt city in America." Loving Chicago, Nelson Algren once said, was like loving a woman with a broken nose.

Even by the standards of turn-of-the-century Chicago, Daley's neighborhood was a grim place. It was Chicago's first slum, known in its early days by the evocative name Hardscrabble. It was settled in the1830s and 1840s by the Irish "shovelmen" who built the nearby Illinois & Michigan Canal, many working for whiskey and a dollar a day. The area was renamed Bridgeport in the 1840s, when a bridge was built across the Chicago River at Ashland Avenue, forcing barges to unload on one side and reload on the other. When the canals were completed, Bridgeport's dirty work of canal-building gave way to the even less savory trade of animal slaughter. Chicago killed and prepared for market much of the livestock raised in the farm states surrounding it. Leading the nation in slaughterhouses, it was truly - as Carl Sandburg observed - "hog butcher for the world." In the mid-1800s, Chicago slaughterhouses were being forced out of the congested downtown, and they found the vast expanses south of Bridgeport an ideal place to relocate. The area had sweeping tracts of open land, and a steady supply of water from the Chicago River available to use in the slaughtering and treatment processes. It was also near railroad tracks, which meant that once the cattle arrived from the countryside, they would not need to be led through the city streets on their way to the slaughter. In 1865, several slaughterhouses that once operated in downtown Chicago combined to form the Union Stock Yards, an enormous collection of meat-processing plants that dominated the area just south of Bridgeport.

Upton Sinclair, whose novel The Jungle exposed the horrific world of the Chicago slaughterhouses, captured the unsavory surroundings in which Daley grew up. There were "so many cattle no one had ever dreamed existed in the world," Sinclair wrote. "The sound of them here was as of all the barnyards of the universe; and as for counting them - it would have taken all day simply to count the pens." Young Daley used to watch as the animals were driven down Archer Avenue to their demise, and he and his friends would gawk at the remnants that showed up in Bubbly Creek. Thousands of Daley's neighbors labored in the slaughterhouses, their workdays an uninterrupted assembly line of killing. Pigs with chains around their hind legs were hooked to a spoke-less wheel, which hoisted the squealing animals into the air and carried them by overhead rail across the length of the building, where a man covered in blood cut their throats by hand. The blood that drained out was collected for use as fertilizer. Then the hog, often still squirming with life, was dropped into a vat of boiling water. Cattle were treated no better. It was hard, dispiriting work. Daley's neighbors were the workers Sinclair told of, those who fell prey to the chemicals used to pickle meats, which caused "all the joints" of their fingers to "be eaten by the acid, one by one." Coming of age in this violent world, Daley was robbed of any illusions early.

As its original name suggested, Bridgeport was a hardscrabble place. The neighborhood's earliest residents had lived in wooden shanties along the Chicago River that sank into the muddy soil of the riverbank. It was a wild region, where wolves ran free in the early years of Daley's childhood. The predominant form of housing, after residents gained the wherewithal to move beyond wooden shanties, was the humble "bungalow," a staple of working-class Chicago architecture. These long and narrow houses, or "shotgun-shacks,"were a big step up from the squalid accommodations along the river, but they were still cheap housing for people who could not afford better. These small bungalows, on not-much-larger lots, were usually home to large immigrant families that would have been crowded in twice the space. Years after Daley was elected mayor, his wife would recall the cramped conditions of her childhood bungalow, in a neighborhood adjoining Bridgeport. "There were 10 children in our family and we only had one bathroom but somehow we all managed," Sis Daley told a newspaper reporter cheerfully.

Bridgeport was, as much as any neighborhood in Chicago, a world apart. It lay on the geographical fringes of the city, five miles from downtown, on land that had only recently been incorporated. And it was separated on all sides by imposing barriers: the Chicago River to the north, the stockyards to the south, Bubbly Creek to the west, and wide railroad tracks - and then a black ghetto - to the east. Ethnic groups had divided Chicago according to an unwritten peace treaty.

Germans settled on the North Side, Irish on the South Side, Jews on the West Side, Bohemians and Poles on the Near Southwest Side and Near Northwest Side, and blacks in the South Side Black Belt.

Bridgeport was more diverse than most Chicago neighborhoods: it was home to several different white Catholic immigrant groups. But this only meant that Bridgeport was itself divided into ethnic enclaves.

Most of its Poles were concentrated in northwest Bridgeport, west of Halsted Avenue, the traditional boundary line between Irish and non-Irish Bridgeport. Lithuanians also lived predominantly in the northwest, with Morgan Street separating them from the Poles.

Germans and Bohemians were more spread out, but they too stayed mainly on the non-Irish side of Halsted. It is a reflection of how ethnically divided Bridgeport was that in 1868 the "index of dissimilarity" - the most commonly used measure of residential segregation - between its Lithuanians and Irish was .96, indicating almost complete separation. In turn-of-the-century Bridgeport, a block or two meant a world of difference. Tom Donovan, who would later become Daley's patronage chief, grew up at 39th and Lowe Avenue, only a few blocks from Daley's home at 35th and Lowe. But it was one parish over - Saint Anthony's, rather than Nativity of Our Lord - so, Donovan insisted, "I didn't grow up in his neighborhood." Even Bridgeport's Irish were divided up into sub-neighborhoods: the north-west Bridgeport Irish; the Dashed Irish, who lived along upper Union Avenue, once named Dashed Avenue; the Canaryville Irish, who lived in the marshy far-south end of the neighborhood; and, just north of Canaryville, the little rectangle of land around Nativity of Our Lord Church known as Hamburg.

Daley's deepest loyalties were to this small Irish-Catholic village-within-a-village. Hamburg was no more than a few square blocks, stretching from 35th Street down to the stockyards at 39th Street, and bounded by Halsted Avenue on the west and the railroad tracks along Wentworth Avenue on the east. Its major institution was Nativity, which like all Catholic churches of the time was as much a center of communal life as a place of worship. Archbishop James Quigley, who led the Chicago Archdiocese from 1903 to 1915, had decreed that "a parish should be of such a size that the pastor can know personally every man, woman, and child in it,"7 and this was certainly the case in tiny Nativity Parish. The annual parish fair - which featured gambling games, booths selling oyster stew, and a Hibernian band playing in the corner - was almost a family gathering. Hamburg also had an array of secular institutions tying its residents together. The 11th Ward offices, headquarters of one of the most important units of the city's powerful Democratic machine, were located on Halsted Avenue at 37th Street. Directly across Halsted was the neighborhood saloon, Schaller's Pump, which many said was the real headquarters of the 11th Ward Democrats. Young residents had an institution of their own, the Hamburg Athletic Club, a combination of sports club, adjunct to the political machine, and youth gang. Hamburg was a tight little world inhabited by people who shared a religion, an ethnicity, and a common set of values, and who were mistrustful of those who lacked these bonds. Though it was in the middle of a large city, Hamburg was "not only a separate neighborhood, but . . . a separate world - a small town on a compact . . . scale."

By one well-established formulation, a neighborhood is a "place to be defended." For all its seeming solidity, Irish-Catholic Hamburg was already in decline even at the time of Daley's birth. Nativity Parish was losing congregants, declining from 2,800 to 1,200 in the early years of the century, and beginning to encounter financial troubles. Throughout Daley's childhood, other ethnic groups were growing in size and drawing closer to Hamburg: formerly Irish Lawler Avenue, a mere four blocks west of Daley's childhood home, was renamed "Lithuanica" as the Lithuanian population around it grew. Mr. Dooley, the fictional creation of the great Irish-American journalist Finley Peter Dunne, expressed Bridgeport's fears of being engulfed by fast-encroaching ethnic rivals. In Dunne's columns in the Chicago Daily News, Mr. Dooley was the Irish-born keeper of a Bridgeport saloon. In 1897, five years before Daley's birth, Mr. Dooley was already bemoaning the fact that "th' Hannigans an' Leonidases an' Caseys" were moving out to greener pastures, "havin' made their pile," and "Polish Jews an' Swedes an' Germans an' Hollanders" had "swarmed in, settlin' on th' sacred sites." The most telling sign of Bridgeport's "change an' decay," Mr. Dooley said, was the selection of "a Polacker" to tend the famous "red bridge," which joined Bridgeport to the rest of the city, thereby placing control of the neighborhood in the hands of a non-Hibernian. It was the rising tide of black immigration, though, that Bridgeporters found most worrisome. Daley's youth coincided with the start of an unprecedented migration, as southern blacks moved north to take industrial jobs in the Northeast and Midwest. Most of the blacks flooding into Chicago were settling in the South Side Black Belt, just a few blocks east of Bridgeport, and the ghetto was always threatening to move closer. By the time Daley was born, many Bridgeporters had decided that their tough little neighborhood, with its workaday bungalows and slaughterhouse ambience, was best left to the new ethnic groups that were engulfing it on all sides. Irish residents of Hamburg who had the money - like Mr. Dooley's Hannigans, Leonidases, and Caseys - were already moving out to more attractive and prestigious neighborhoods where the lawns were larger and the air did not smell of blood. But despite all sense and logic, Daley's family, and later Daley himself, remained intensely loyal to their small Irish-Catholic village. Daley never moved out and, it might be said, he spent a lifetime defending it.

Daley was born in a simple two-flat at 3502 South Lowe on May 15, 1902. Daley's father, Michael, was the second of nine children born to James E. Daley, a New York?born butcher, and Delia Gallagher, an immigrant from Ireland. Like most Irish-American immigrants, Daley's forebears came to the country as part of the Great Potato Famine migration, which caused more than two million Irish to expatriate between 1845 and 1850. Though not brought over in chains, these Irishmen and Irishwomen were torn from their land and forced to emigrate by extraordinarily cruel circumstances. Before the famine ended, perhaps one-quarter of Ireland's population of eight million had died of starvation and disease. Many survivors headed for America. Their journey across the ocean, made in aptly named "coffin ships," was perilous. Passengers often succumbed to "ship fever," a kind of typhus, along the way. It was a migration of refugees fleeing a country they held dear, often forced to leave loved ones behind. Family legend has it that Daley's grandfather began his own journey when he went to market in Cork with his brother to sell pigs and, with the few shillings he made on the sale, boarded the next ship for America.

Growing up in Bridgeport, Daley could not have avoided hearing about the horrors of the "Great Starvation." Adults in the neighborhood, some of whom had seen the suffering firsthand, passed on to the children lurid tales of skeletons walking the countryside, and peasant women dying in the fields. These famine stories were invariably laced with bitter accounts of how the hated British had exported wheat and oats out of the country while the Irish starved. In the course of his childhood, Daley learned the whole tragic history of his people - the centuries of rule as a conquered territory, the rebellions brutally put down, the absentee landlordism that drove farmers into poverty, and the language all but obliterated.

What People are Saying About This

Douglas Brinkley
American Pharaoh is a grand, sweeping profile of Chicago's Richard J. Daley, perhaps the most powerful and irascible mayor in American history. This is political biography at its absolute finest: sprightly prose, dramatic flair, definitive insights, careful research, colorful anecdotes, and a balanced interpretation. Daley leaps off these pages as if he were still alive.
—(Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Eisenhower Center and Professor of History, University of New Orleans)
Scott Turow
American Pharaoh is a unique gem. It is an enthralling narrative, a true page—turner, and also a needed work of history. It is the first serious biography of Richard J. Daley, the enormously complicated man who ruled Chicago for decades, and who, no matter how viewed, indelibly shaped not only one city, but the American political scene and national urban life.
—(Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent)
Alex Kotlowitz
American Pharaoh is biography at its absolute best. In the spirit of Robert Caro's The Power Broker, this is a story of more than just a man. It is a tale of a tumultuous time, of the corrupt authority of power, and of the strength and frailties of our democracy. Best of all, Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor, who have done an extraordinary job of reporting, know how to spin a good yarn. I read this book on airplanes. I read it late at night. I read it when I should have been working. In short, it held me spellbound.
—(Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here and The Other Side of the River)
Studs Terkel
This is a myth—shattering portrait of Mayor Daley the elder. In its revelatory detail, it offers us a canny politician, not especially original or colorful, whose staying power enabled him to outlast all competition. It is an eye opening work that enthralls the reader from page one.
—(Studs Terkel, author of Working and My American Century)

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American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley - His Battle for Chicago and the Nation 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a native Chicagoan, I found myself entralled with this book. Highly recommend if you are into the 60's and politics and especially the alway dramatic Cook County politics. Not much is different today folks. After reading this you will quickly see that our current President is not the first time we made it to the White House...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even being a Republican from Chicago, I can appreciate the political force that Mayor Daley created. I think the book does a good job of detailing how Daley built the Machine, in a dry, yet informative, way. It may give those from outside Chicago a good perspective. I didn't appreciate, what I percieved to be, an underlying anti-Catholic sentiment by the authors. It was unnecessary, and shows Cohen and Tayor's lack of understanding about the city and people of Chicago.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For any outsider looking for details about the modern history of Chicago, this book contains a mass of well organized facts presenting in a fine biographical narrative of the original Mayor Daley. However,and quite sadly, this book fails utterly to capture his greatness. He envisioned what the great city Chicago has become, and more than any other, he is responsible for its creation. Sure, he was quite out of step with the clarion liberal calls for equity, but the petty hatreds of the various frightened ethnic enclaves that once characterized the city was the reality from which he forged an empire. The title captures the misperception of the authors. I wonder what the return on investment is for a pyramid?
Guest More than 1 year ago
This bio of Boss Daley is exhaustive in detail and meticulous in retelling the tale of Daley's tenure as 'emperor' of Chicago. After finishing the book, though, I realized that it had no real flesh. It lays out all fabric, but it fails to sew it into any comprehendable analysis of what this mayor means to us now. Short on analysis and lacking any sort of theme, I am saddened to give this one a thumbs down.