The people who live in Chicago write a lot about their lives. There are books about our city’s shady politics, collections of art that show our architectural influence, and interviews with people who live there.
We came up with a list of 10 books you should read if you love Chicago. These books look at the history of the neighborhoods, how politicians shape the built environment, and how school closings have affected the South Side. Notice that a favorite book isn’t there? Make sure we know! Check with one of the bookstores in Chicago to order these books. We’ve put Amazon links up for your convenience. Unabridged Bookstore is one of the many independent bookstores. Women and Children First is another one. The Book Cellar is also a good place to go for books.
The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook, edited by Martha Bayne
In the Guidebook, Tanner Howard writes, “It’s hard to understand Chicago without paying attention to the many different things that make up its residents’ lives.” This includes an Englewood mother who’s worked to keep a single corner of her neighborhood safe from gun violence, or the intense Halloween devotion in Edgewater Glen. “The Guidebook serves as powerful reminder that we still share a common bond, bound to a city filled with stories,” Howard writes.
High Rise Stories, edited by Audrey Petty
This collection includes first-person stories from people who lived in Chicago’s famous and now-demolished public housing projects. Those who need to be heard can read these stories. They give them a chance to tell their stories.
Ghosts in the Schoolyard, by Eve L. Ewing
Ewing was first a student and then a teacher at Chicago Public Schools, where he worked for many years. Now, as a researcher who studies them, she says that public schools are more than just places where people live and work. They are also important parts of neighborhoods and places that bring people together. This book looks at the controversial decision to close schools in Chicago in 2013. It also looks at how that decision affected the city’s South Side neighborhoods. He asks: If these schools were so bad, why did people care so much about them, even going on hunger strikes?
Never A City So Real: A Walk In Chicago, by Alex Kotlowitz
Most people in Chicago know about There Are No Children Here, a book by Kotlowitz about two brothers who lived in the Henry Horner Homes. It talks about their lives. Another book that looks into the lives of a soul food restaurant owner, the lawyers and defendants in Chicago’s criminal court, and a steelworker who turned into a history teacher is being talked about today, so keep reading! He says that these intimate profiles are a love letter to Chicago. They show “a place that can tie me up in knots but a place that has been my muse, my friend, and my joy.”
Chicago on the Make, by Andrew Diamond
There’s a lot to learn about how Chicago has changed over the last 100 years. In this book, a historian talks about how the city changed over time as it grew from rail yards, factories, and poor homes into a global city. Urbanists who are interested in a big-picture view of the power and inequality that live in the city will find this book very interesting.
Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%, by Kari Lydersen
Rahm Emanuel was mayor of Chicago for two terms. During his time in office, construction cranes dotted the sky, downtown businesses grew, and big projects took off. If you want to know how that came to be and learn more about Mayor Lightfoot’s plan to put more money into neighborhoods, this is a good place to start.
Chicago by the Book: 101 Publications That Shaped The City and Its Image, by Caxton Club with an introduction from Neil Harris
People who love books should pay attention to this. This collection shows how books helped shape the city. During what year did the Great Fire of 1871 take place? Chicago Public Library was born because of this. In the South Loop, there was a strong literary culture because there was a lot of printing in the past (and can now thank for a distinct style of lofts). Nelson Algren and Gwendolyn Brooks were both famous writers who started their careers in this city. In Chicago by the Book, you’ll learn how important books from the last 170 years have helped shape the city.
Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago, by David Naguib Pellow
The last time you thought about what happens to your trash, did you? In this book, you’ll learn about how our waste is affecting our neighborhoods and the people who are most at risk from the waste. More than just your trash. When David Pellow is a sociologist, he studies how people in Chicago live and work with waste. He also gives ideas for how communities can work together to live more sustainably.
Here’s the Deal: The Buying and Selling of a Great American City, by Ross Miller
This is the story of the Loop’s Block 37. Ross Miller, an architectural critic and urban historian, tells this story. This isn’t how it used to be. Block 37 didn’t always have a lot of shops, movie theaters, and L stops. Miller’s book talks about the complicated history of Block 37 and how politicians, developers, brokers, and architects can fail when they try to improve the city.
Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology, edited by Martha Bayne
As a group, these short stories by authors like Chloe Taft and Kari Lydersen show the region’s industrial history and how Chicago has had a complicated relationship with its main source of income. In the Chicago Tribune, they say it’s “…a lively mix of short stories, essays, and poems that reads at times like a who’s who of modern Chicago writers and residents.” This is what they mean.