From Chicago’s earliest years in the 1830s, the city welcomed dollar-chasing businessmen and politicians, swiftly followed by reformers who strived to clean up the attendant corruption. Reformers in Chicago were called “goo goos,” a derisive epithet short for “good-government types.” Grafters and Goo Goos contends a certain synergy defined the relationship between corruption and reform. Politicians and reformers often behaved similarly, their separate ambitions merging into a conjoined politics of interdependency wherein the line between heroes and villains grew increasingly faint. The real story, asserts Merriner, has less to do with right against wrong than it does with the ways the cultural backgrounds of politicians and reformers steered their own agendas, animating and defining each other by their opposition.
Drawing on original and archival research, Merriner identifies constants in the struggle between corruption and reform amid a welter of changing social circumstances and customs—decades of alternating war and peace, hardships and prosperity. Three areas of reform and resistance are identified: structural reform of the political system to promote honesty and efficiency, social reform to provide justice to the lower classes, and moral reform to combat vice. “In the matter of corruption and reform, the constants might be stronger than the variables,” writes Merriner in the Preface. “The players, rules, and scorekeepers change, but not the essential game.”
Complemented by eighteen illustrations, Grafters and Goo Goos is rife with shocking and amusing anecdotes and peppered with the personalities of famous muckrakers, bootleggers, mayors, and mobsters. While other studies have profiled infamous Chicago corruption cases and figures such as Al Capone and Richard J. Daley, this is the first to provide an overview appropriate for historians and general readers alike. In examining Chicago’s notorious saga of corruption and reform against a backdrop of social history, Merriner calls attention to our constant problems of both civic and national corruption and contributes to larger discussions about the American experiment of democratic self-government.
“The sting, the speed and marksmanship of the gimcracks his characters fire at each other . . . drips the kind of soulful, energized sarcasm that has long characterized [Letts’] work as an actor and playwright.”–Time Out Chicago
Tracy Letts, who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his epic, caustic Oklahoma family drama August: Osage County, has shifted gears with this entertaining comedy set in a donut shop. A love letter to the city where he has lived for more than twenty years, Letts describes his new work as “an exploration of the Chicago storefront experience.” The play takes place in the north side neighborhood of Uptown, where Arthur Przybyszewski runs the donut shop that has been in his family for sixty years. More content to spend the day smoking weed and reminiscing about his Polish immigrant father, Arthur hires a shop assistant, the young African American Franco Wicks, who has both an unpublished novel and unpaid gambling debt. Superior Donuts premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and recently opened on Broadway—following the same path of success as Letts’ previous work.
Tracy Letts is the author of Killer Joe, Bug, Man from Nebraska (nominated for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize), and August: Osage County (awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama). He is a member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
The "promised land" for thousands of Southern blacks, postwar Chicago quickly became the most segregated city in the North, the site of the nation's worst ghettos and the target of Martin Luther King Jr.'s first campaign beyond the South. In this powerful book, Beryl Satter identifies the true causes of the city's black slums and the ruin of urban neighborhoods throughout the country: not, as some have argued, black pathology, the culture of poverty, or white flight, but a widespread and institutionalized system of legal and financial exploitation.
In Satter's riveting account of a city in crisis, unscrupulous lawyers, slumlords, and speculators are pitched against religious reformers, community organizers, and an impassioned attorney who launched a crusade against the profiteers—the author's father, Mark J. Satter. At the heart of the struggle stand the black migrants who, having left the South with its legacy of sharecropping, suddenly find themselves caught in a new kind of debt peonage. Satter shows the interlocking forces at work in their oppression: the discriminatory practices of the banking industry; the federal policies that created the country's shameful "dual housing market"; the economic anxieties that fueled white violence; and the tempting profits to be made by preying on the city's most vulnerable population.
Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America is a monumental work of history, this tale of racism and real estate, politics and finance, will forever change our understanding of the forces that transformed urban America.
"Gripping . . . This painstaking portrayal of the human costs of financial racism is the most important book yet written on the black freedom struggle in the urban North."—David Garrow, The Washington Post
A lyrical, intelligent, authentic, and necessary look at the intersection of race and class in Chicago, a Great American City
In this intelligent and highly important narrative, Chicago-native Natalie Moore shines a light on contemporary segregation in the city's South Side; with a memoirist's eye, she showcases the lives of these communities through the stories of people who reside there. The South Side shows the impact of Chicago's historic segregation - and the ongoing policies that keep the system intact.
And yet this is not really a memoir. The Book of My Lives, Hemon's first book of nonfiction, defies convention and expectation. It is a love song to two different cities; it is a heartbreaking paean to the bonds of family; it is a stirring exhortation to go out and play soccer—and not for the exercise. It is a book driven by passions but built on fierce intelligence, devastating experience, and sharp insight. And like the best narratives, it is a book that will leave you a different reader—a different person, with a new way of looking at the world—when you've finished. For fans of Hemon's fiction, The Book of My Lives is simply indispensable; for the uninitiated, it is the perfect introduction to one of the great writers of our time.A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2013