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Chicago: A Biography


Chicago has been called by many names. Nelson Algren declared it “A City on the Make.” Carl Sandburg dubbed it the “City of Big Shoulders.” Upton Sinclair christened it “The Jungle,” while New Yorkers, naturally, pronounced it “the Second City.”

At last there is a book for all of us, whatever we choose to call Chicago. Here, historian Dominic Pacyga gives his hometown the magisterial biography it has long deserved. Chicago traces the city’s storied past, from the explorations of Joliet and Marquette in 1673 to the new wave of urban pioneers today. The city’s great industrialists, reformers, and politicians—and, indeed, the many not-so-great and downright notorious—animate this book, from Al Capone and Jane Addams to Mayor Richard J. Daley and President Barack Obama.

But what distinguishes this book from the many others on the subject is its author’s uncommon ability to illuminate the lives of Chicago’s ordinary people. Born and raised in Back of the Yards on Chicago’s southwest side, Pacyga spent his college years working at the Union Stock Yards. Chicago, therefore, gives voice to the city’s steelyard workers and kill floor operators, mapping the neighborhoods distinguished not by Louis Sullivan masterworks, but by bungalows and corner taverns. And their stories come alive through an extensive selection of evocative illustrations culled from major institutional archives, local historical societies, and the author’s personal collection.

Filled with the city’s one-of-a-kind characters and all of its defining moments, Chicago: A Biography is as big and boisterous as its namesake—and as ambitious as the men and women who built it.

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