New book: City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago, by Gary Krist ’79 (Crown)
The author: Krist, the author of three novels and two short-story collections, has devoted much of the last decade to journalism and narrative nonfiction. The White Cascade, his 2007 exploration of a 1910 avalanche that killed nearly 100 train travelers in the Cascade Mountains, was his first nonfiction book. Krist frequently writes reviews for publications that include The Washington Post Book World and The New York Times Book Review.
The book: In City of Scoundrels, Krist turns the clock back nearly a century to take a detailed look at Chicago in July 1919. A remarkable series of events, ranging from a deadly blimp crash to a crippling transit strike, pushes Chicago “to the edge of civic disintegration” at a time when its leaders had been trumpeting an effort to modernize.
Opening lines: “The Spanish influenza had nearly killed Carl Otto that summer, but now the young bank telegrapher, clearly on the mend, was eager to return to work. On the warm, sunny morning of Monday, July 21, therefore, he rose early to prepare for his commute. His wife, Elsie, was concerned about his health and tried to discourage him. Carl was still not well, she insisted, and his extended sick leave didn’t officially end until tomorrow. Couldn’t he put off work for just one more day?”
Reviews: Publishers Weekly called City of Scoundrels “a solid, well-informed, and vibrant slice of urban history,” noting that the book draws in readers by focusing on the stories of unheralded individuals. Krist’s view of how larger-than-life mayor Big Bill Thompson kept the city afloat piqued the interest of Chicago magazine, which called the book “riveting.”