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In 1919, Chicago was the second most populous city in the nation and a giant commercial center. Yet in Europe and the U.S., many still viewed the city as a raw, unsophisticated town whose high culture lagged well behind that of more glittering urban centers. There were, predictably, aspirations among the city's elite to change that perception. Then, beginning on July 21 of that year, Chicago endured a perfect storm of man-made disasters that reduced the city to chaos and reinforced the city's primitive image. These included the crashing of a dirigible that killed 13 people and maimed others, the murder of a six-year-old child, a paralyzing transit strike, and a devastating race riot. Presiding over this turmoil was Mayor William (Big Bill) Thompson, portrayed here as a man with enormous political and sensual appetites but doubtful governing skills. Other prominent Chicago political and cultural personalities weave in and out of the narrative, including Robert McCormick and Ida Wells, but the strongest part of Krist's story is his recounting of how ordinary Chicagoans coped with these successive body blows to their city. This is a superior slice of urban history.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2010 Booklist


Publishers Weekly
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Drawing readers in by focusing on the stories of individual Chicoans affected by a series of tragic events, Krist (The White Cascade) describes a Chicago that was "push[ed]. to the edge of civic disintegration" by 12 days of crises in the summer of 1919. On Monday, July 21, an experimental Goodyear blimp flying over the densely populated downtown Loop district to promote an amusement park suddenly burst into flames and crashed into the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank, injuring 27 and killing 13. The next day, the six-year-old daughter of Scottish immigrant grocers was snatched and choked to death by a neighbor who buried her body in the basement of their apartment building. On Saturday, July 26, a highly regarded municipal court judge committed suicide by jumping from his City Hall chambers, and on Sunday, a black youth's death caused by a white bather at a whites'-only beach sparked a race riot on the South Side. As the rioting continued, a transit strike paralyzed Chicago on Tuesday, July 29, and endangering lives by playing politics, the controversial Mayor Big Bill Thompson dithered about calling in the National Guard to quell the violence. Krist serves up a solid, well-informed, and vibrant slice of urban history. Map. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.