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216 × 138 × 20 mm
208 pages
96 illustrations, 62 in colour
11 Feb 2019

Chicago From Vision to Metropolis Whet Moser

Chicago has been called the ‘most American of cities’ and the ‘great American city’. Not the biggest or the most powerful; neither the richest, prettiest nor best – but the most American. How did it become that? And what does it even mean?

At its heart, Chicago is America’s great hub. It began as a trading post, which grew into a market for the east to purchase the goods of the west, sprouting the still-largest rail interchange in America. As people began to trade virtual representations of those goods – futures – the city became a centre of finance and law. And as people studied the city’s growth and its economy, it became a nucleus of intellect, with the University of Chicago’s pioneering sociologists shaping how cities at home and abroad would come to understand themselves.

Whet Moser’s book reveals how the city grew into a metropolis over its social, urban, cultural and sometimes scandalous history. He also traces the development of and current changes in its neighbourhoods: Chicago is famous for them, and infamous for the segregation between them. Moser takes readers from the very beginnings of the city as an idea, a vision in the minds of its first explorers, to the global city it has become – and offers a local’s perspective on the best and most interesting aspects of Chicago to visitors today.

‘Moser, a veteran journalist and former editor of Chicago magazine, aims to take readers past shallow, greatest-hits perceptions of Chicago in this combination guidebook, cultural history, and paean from a longtime resident . . . Despite guidebookesque listings of restaurants, bars, and entertainment, Moser’s stylish prose makes this far more than a guidebook. This is an unusual and entertaining look at a great American city.’ — Publishers Weekly

‘Former Chicago magazine associate editor Moser explores Chicago’s history, politics, and culture in the latest Cityscopes city-guide series. This is not your typical Rick Steves, Fodor’s, or Lonely Planet guide to a city. Moser has selected the defining moments, people, places, and audacious innovations that make Chicago a one-of-a-kind city. Choosing Moser as author was a good move, given all that he’s learned over the years he’s covered Chicago for local publications, while his literary style brings major historical and cultural happenings to life. He touches on well-known aspects of the city, but also delves into the character of the different neighborhoods and both their glory and seediness. The never-ending migrations of people to Chicago and within the city are richly discussed. The text is accompanied by an eclectic collection of photographs, and a list of recommendations is offered in the back of the book. Visitors, admirers, and residents alike will enjoy referencing this book repeatedly.’ — Booklist

‘Tackles the broad strokes of Chicago’s historical evolution before shifting to a series of chapters exploring the city of today . . . Chicago: From Vision to Metropolis is part of a larger series from Reaktion Books covering cities from Buenos Aires to Beijing. The concept, which Moser ably executes, is to give readers a general sense of the city’s history and contemporary contours . . . exactly the sort of thing you can breeze through while sunning at North Avenue.’ — Chicago Detours

‘Whet Moser’s great gift is a knack for condensing vast reams of facts and figures into concise, compulsively readable prose. Equal parts elegance and insight, this book is an invaluable primer on our beloved Chicago – that most contradictory yet American of cities.’ — Dmitry Samarov, author of Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab

‘The best urban writers have the historian’s depth, the playwright’s sense of drama, the poet’s verbal dexterity, and the journalist’s BS-detector: Whet Moser brings all that to bear on these pages. Whether you’re a Chicago lifer, newly arrived, or just visiting, read this book if you want to grasp Chicago.’ — Bill Savage, Northwestern University

‘Along with a concise but richly detailed history of Chicago, Whet Moser has written a fresh portrait of the city today, filled with insights about everything from sociology to hot dogs. Moser is a perceptive guide to his city, with a keen understanding of the reasons why it continues to fascinate.’ — Robert Loerzel, author of Alchemy of Bones: Chicago’s Luetgert Murder Case of 1897

‘Avoiding the pursuit of safe quirkiness and overexposed, ordinary attractions remains the book’s strength. Moser goes past the flashy new stuff . . . Bully for Moser too that he honors Chicago’s architectural heritage, but doesn’t stick to Sullivan, Wright, and Burnham . . . Overall, Chicago: From Vision to Metropolis is a heaping spoonful taken from a vast bubbling bigos of history, culture, and experience. Just a taste, really, but a rich, complex, and flavorful one.’ — Third Coast Review

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Whet Moser is deputy editor at Quartz Obsession and a former associate editor at Chicago magazine.


1 Manifest Destiny
2 Building the Hub
3 The Second-Greatest Arrogance
4 Cheer Up
5 Appalled at the Results of Progress
6 Prohibition, Segregation, and the Blues
7 Modernist Times
8 The Boss and Rev King
9 Harold of a New Day
10 Daley II and the Two Chicagos

Architecture: “The Aesthetically Perfect City”
Baseball: North Side and South Side Stories
Booze: Builder of Bars
Crime: Trials of a Century
El: Spine of the City
Food: Pop Art
Water: Chicago’s Front Yard (and its Septic Tank)
Museums: White City to the First Black President
Parks: Reflections of a Global City
Ports of Call: Entering the Great American City

Suggested Reading and Viewing
Photo Acknowledgements