This not really a book review, as I haven’t read the book yet myself – but if you’re anything like me and enjoy a fascinating historical narrative, I expect you won’t go wrong picking up City of Scoundrels. With a title like that, and the subject matter of Chicago politics, you’d be excused for thinking this is about the early career of President Obama (just kidding!), but it actually is a riveting account of a number of dramatic events that took place in the Windy City in July 1919 (within a mere 12 days, in fact), highlighting the metamorphosis of Chicago from a chaotic boom town into a modern and diverse city. The author, Gary Krist, weaves the diverse events (including a blimp crash over the Loop, race riots, and the abduction and murder of a six-year-old girl) into a captivating narrative set against the backdrop of the great and farsighted Burnham Plan for the city. There is a Coolidge connection: 1919 also was the year of the Boston Police Strike which propelled Coolidge to national prominence. The rivalry between Chicago mayor “Big Bill” William Hale Thompson and Illinois Governor Frank Lowden (the latter was a leading candidate for the GOP nomination in 1920) resulted in Thompson denying Lowden the publicity that he would have received by quelling the riots with help of the state militia. This may have played a part in denying Lowden the insurmountable early lead he would have needed to secure the Republican nomination that ultimately went to Warren Harding and his running mate Calvin Coolidge. In another Coolidgean footnote, Thompson was among the second-tier candidates for the Republican nomination in 1928.
There is an interesting conversation with the author about the book on bloggingheads.tv