Chief O'Neil's Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago. By Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch, eds. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. 2008. Cloth, $28.95).
Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers. By Gus Russo. (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing. 2006. Pp. xiv, 598. Cloth, $34.95, paper, $16.95).
First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt: Homicide in Chicago, 1875-1920. By Jeffry Adler. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2006). Cloth, $35.00.
Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties. By Michael Lesy (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company. 2007. Cloth, $29.95, paper, $15.95).
Sin and the City: Chicago and Revivalism, 1880-1920. By Thekla Ellen Joiner. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. 2007. Cloth, $39.95).
Chicago has acquired a reputation colored by crime and corruption that few places rival. While much of this characterization is unwarranted, much of it is deserved. The city has elicited feelings of fear and disorder in part because of its long entrenched networks of organized crime, high murder rate, and history of labor disruptions. This chaotic past of the Midwest Metropolis has long attracted the attention of scholars and the reading public alike. Nonetheless, recent publications continue to reexamine the subject. The following five histories specifically help to explore the relationship between crime in Chicago and broader social, familial, and cultural developments.
The formation of police forces paralleled the rise in crime and "disorder" during the nineteenth century. Chief O'Neil's Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago offers a first-hand glimpse of the expanding Chicago Police Department and the challenges the city's underworld posed to it. Editors Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch provide few changes to former Police Chief Francis O'Neil's original hand-written manuscript that he wrote in 1931 and have included a number of useful photographs and other documents. Because O'Neil became involved in numerous activities, his autobiography includes information concerning a variety of topics, for instance navigation, immigration, ethnicity, and Irish culture. The appendix, a bibliography of O'Neil's library of books, now located in the Special Collections at the University Libraries of Notre Dame, is the most comprehensive collection concerning Irish traditional music.
Sketchy Recollections covers almost eighty years and numerous continents. O'Neil spends much of the text on his time traveling around the world as a sailor, taking the reader along the global transportation and trade routes on which Chicago was situated. After marrying, O'Neil settled in Chicago in 1870. Like many fellow immigrants from Ireland, he eventually found permanent work with the Chicago Police Department following many unsuccessful attempts at steady and gainful employment. In remembering his time in the force, he describes many difficulties. Political disputes affected police operations, one chief after another was replaced by new municipal regimes, and captains attempted to prevent his advancement. O'Neil's vigilance and reform mentality eventually won him appointment as superintendent of police in 1901. As chief, he led a national movement for police reform and restructuring, the successes of which his written memories might have exaggerated. The text also includes his speeches from national police chief conventions.
O'Neil witnessed many important and tumultuous events in Chicago. Radical movements such as anarchism concerned him more than anything else. In his first address to the annual convention of police chiefs, he focused solely on anarchy and its philosophical underpinnings. He labeled Emma Goldman, who he helped arrest and later release in Chicago following President McKinley's assassination, as "one of the most dangerous apostles of anarchy in America" (118). …