A desolate fur-trading outpost in 1830, Chicago became, within half a century, the nation's railroad hub, livestock and packing center and a manufacturing giant. A glorious anthem to a tumultuous city, this synthesis of industrial, social and cultural history captures the raw, robust spirit of Chicago on every page. Miller, a history professor at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, peoples his big, colorful, engrossing canvas with architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, railroad entrepreneur George Pullman, settlement-house workers Jane Addams and Florence Kelley, "Meat king" Philip Armour, dry-goods merchant Marshall Field, retailers Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck, reaper inventor Cyrus McCormick, mail-order pioneer Aaron Montgomery Ward, Theodore Dreiser, Lincoln Steffens and others. Chicago-with its experience of mass transit, a regimented workforce, instant suburbs, the Americanization of diverse immigrant groups and battles between privatism and the public good-serves as a prism through which we watch the emergence of modern American life. (Apr.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
No other American city experienced the growth and development, destructive natural disaster, and rebirth that Chicago did in the 19th century. The Great Fire of 1871 was potentially the end of the largest city in America's heartland, but by 1893 Chicago had rebuilt and hosted the World's Columbian Exposition. The story of that growth, loss, and reemergence is remarkable, and historian Miller (Lewis Mumford: A Life, LJ 6/1/89) has written an equally remarkable story of Chicago, what he terms an industrial history. Miller carefully develops the saga of Chicago's growth, despair, and recovery in an extraordinary text that is readable yet scholarly. In his narrative Miller tells of Chicago's historical and literary figures, reform leaders, architects, industrialists, and entrepreneurs. Several histories of the city have appeared over the years (e.g., Edward Wagenknecht's Chicago, LJ 3/15/64), yet Miller's is a model for future historians. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Boyd Childress, Auburn Univ. Lib., Ala.
Miller set out to write a history of Chicago that "gives prominence to geography and personality," a comment marking the starting point for a certain kind of hyperbole that undergirds the rest of the narrative. Still, Miller's history is convincing and does not seem too strained. He writes about such explorers as Marquette and Joliet; the early pioneers as personified in the long, varied career of Gurdon Hubbard; displaced Indians like Black Hawk the Sauk chief; William Butler Ogden, real estate tycoon; Stephen A. Douglas, the first Chicago politician; Philip Armour, king of the packing plants; Cyrus McCormick, reaper king; Ida B. Welles, the indomitable black educator; and so on. Miller proves the people of Chicago were an enthusiastic, highly energetic people to whom capitalism was the mantra that drove them to superhuman strength, like rebuilding their city of wood after the Great Fire of 1871 and subsequently hosting the spectacular World Columbian Exposition in 1893. It's a solid book and makes a good companion volume to Ross Miller's "Here's the Deal" , which covers recent years. The Democratic National Convention will be held once again in Chicago in 1996. In the spirit of capitalism, a few major books are bound to be published, perhaps one with a fresh take on Chicago's middle, and dark, ages. Stay tuned.
A picaresque biography of a picaresque city; a thick tome that, despite its weight, one puts down with reluctance.
Miller (History/Lafayette College; Lewis Mumford: A Life, 1989) begins in 1673, with Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, the first Europeans to explore the site. But the true focus of the narrative is the 19th century, following Chicago's explosive growth from a small fort in 1803 to a sprawling city of more than a million people 90 years later. The climax of the book is Chicago's 1893 Columbia Exposition, an almost unimaginably opulent, massive display of American achievement. It was appropriate that this world's fair commemorating 400 years of American development should be hosted by Chicago, writes Miller, who embraces the common thesis that 19th-century Chicago was the most American of American cities: "the epic of Chicago is the story of the emergence of modern America." But Miller takes the argument one step further, asserting that Chicago differed from the rest of the country because it took the most significant trends shaping America to their extremes, for better and for worse. Nowhere else was unbridled capitalism given such free reign. Nowhere else was there a location so ideally suited to the production of wealth and the emergence of "the most compelling of all creations of the 19th century, the wildly expanding industrial metropolis, city of smoke and steel and sweat." Miller describes Chicago as a "living drama" peopled by colorful, complex characters: industrial and merchandising geniuses who created jobs but exploited and denigrated their workers, for example; or the corrupt politicians who nonetheless also gave much to their constituents.
Miller argues that Chicago illuminates our era as well. Capitalism's pluses and minuses, the influence of the city, the responsibilities and limitations of government, the ferment that generates artistic creativity, and other very modern issues are made clearer by this epic history.
Chicago Sun-Times With City of the Century, Miller has written what will be judged as the great Chicago history.
David McCullough author of
John Adams Brims with life, with people, surprise, and with stories and stories within stories all worth telling.
The Washington Post Sweeping and beautifully written.
The New York Times A wonderfully readable account of Chicago's early history.