City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America

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9780684831381: City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America

The epic of Chicago is the story of the emergence of modern America. Here, witness Chicago's growth from a desolate fur-trading post in the 1830s to one of the world's most explosively alive cities by 1900.

Donald Miller's powerful narrative embraces it all: Chicago's wild beginnings, its reckless growth, its natural calamities (especially the Great Fire of 1871), its raucous politics, its empire-building businessmen, its world-transforming architecture, its rich mix of cultures, its community of young writers and journalists, and its staggering engineering projects—which included the reversal of the Chicago River and raising the entire city from prairie mud to save it from devastating cholera epidemics. The saga of Chicago's unresolved struggle between order and freedom, growth and control, capitalism and community, remains instructive for our time, as we seek ways to build and maintain cities that retain their humanity without losing their energy. City of the Century throbs with the pulse of the great city it brilliantly brings to life.

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About the Author:

Donald L. Miller is the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College and author of nine books, including City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, and Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America. He has hosted, coproduced, or served as historical consultant for more than thirty television documentaries and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications. Visit DonaldMillerBooks.com.

From Kirkus Reviews:

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. -- Copyright 1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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