Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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Novelist and Chicago native Dyja (Play for a Kingdom) delivers a magisterial narrative of mid-20th century Chicago, once America's "primary meeting place, market, workshop and lab." Dyja covers the period from the 1930s through the 1950s, when Chicago produced much of what became postwar America's way of life: Mies van der Rohe's glass and steel skyscrapers; TV's soap operas; Ray Kroc's McDonald's franchise; Hugh Hefner's Playboy empire; and the Chess Brothers' recording studio that unleashed Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, urban blues, and rock 'n' roll. Though the book focuses on Chicago's pivotal role in producing America's mass-market culture, Dyja highlights how Chicago was also wrestling with the counterculture-the improvisational theater of Second City, the urban poor in Gwendolyn Brooks's poetry and Nelson Algren's novels, Moholy's experimental Institute of Design, and new styles in television and music aimed at people, not markets. As Dyja notes, racial strife pervaded all aspects of life in the city, which was home to the National Baptist Convention; the Harlem Globetrotters; major black press outlets (Ebony and Jet, among others); and Emmett Till, whose murder sparked the Civil Rights movement. Dyja explores Chicago's politics, and how the city's leadership attempted to address the "racial wound," caused, in part, by placing all public housing in black neighborhoods. What emerges is a luminous, empathetic, and engrossing portrait of a city. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Dyja contends that Understanding America requires understanding Chicago, and he shows why in this robust, outspoken, zestfully knowledgeable, and seductively told synthesis of biography, culture, politics, and history. Writing with velocity, wry wit, and tough lyricism in sync with Chicago's ballsy spirit, Dyja focuses on the years between the Great Depression and 1960, dissecting the city's three most powerful ­institutions--the Cook County Democratic Party, the Catholic Church, and the Mob. As vibrant and clarifying as his overarching vision is, what makes this such a thrilling read are Dyja's fresh and dynamic portraits not only of the first Mayor Daley and his machine but also of key artists and innovators who embodied or amplified Chicago's earthiness, grit, audacity, and beauty, including writers Nelson Algren and Gwendolyn Brooks, the multitalented Studs Terkel, singer Mahalia Jackson, architect Mies van der Rohe, jazz visionary Sun Ra, and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Dyja pieces it all together, from the city's epic political corruption, vicious racism, and ethnic enclaves to the ferment that gave rise to world-changing architecture, urban blues and gospel, McDonald's, improv comedy, and the birth of television. Here is the frenetic simultaneity of an evolving city torn between its tragic crimes and failings and tensile strength and creativity.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist