A Wild Kind of Boldness: The Chicago History Reader

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A Wild Kind of Boldness: The Chicago History Reader. Edited by Rosemary K. Adams (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998 Pp. xiv, 458. $39.00.)

A Wild Kind of Boldness is a collection of thirty-five articles originally published in the Chicago Historical Society's journal, Chicago History, described in a preface by CHS president Douglas Greenberg as sitting "comfortably between being identified as a scholarly journal of record and magazine of popular history." Though the Chicago Historical Society first published Chicago History from 1945 through 1969, the "new series" which has been published quarterly since 1970 is the source of all of the material reprinted here.

The book's intended audience is obviously not limited to the professional historian but includes anyone with even the most casual interest in the city's history. In her introduction to this volume, editor Rosemary Adams defines Chicago History's editorial philosophy as "mak[ing] the most recent historical scholarship accessible and available to a broad audience." A Wild Kind of Boldness succeeds at exposing that audience both to Chicago history topics beyond the most common and to meaningful analysis of those events; but unfortunately it fails at assisting readers in pursuing their interests in Chicago history beyond this volume. It fails, that is, to make the wider world of sources and literature on Chicago history accessible. Still, for many readers this is a book which has the potential to open many new horizons in both Chicago history and American urban history in general.

Second-guessing the editors of any sort of anthology about what should have been excluded and what might better have been included is always easy; the editor of this volume should be credited, instead, with defining five major topics and periods of Chicago's history - "The Rise of a Commercial City," "Industrialization and Immigration," "The Progressive Era," "The Chicago Cultural Renaissance," and "Chicago in Modern Times" - and gleaning the strongest material at her disposal to present this approachable material within an immediately meaningful structure. Readers who skip around randomly among the articles here will do themselves a disservice, as the real strength of this volume lies in the themes which emerge from among the articles and finally define for the reader the sweep of what is, after all, the city's brief history: the continuous struggles for political position by a multitude of ethnic populations, the development of the mammoth infrastructure of utilities necessary to sustain a metropolis, the movement of women out of the home and into a variety of public spheres, and the growth of labor unions. These themes cut across the book's five sections and provide another lens through which to view Chicago's unwieldy past.

These articles focus less on events themselves than on their aftermath and import: the only article on the Chicago fire, for instance, (Karen Sawislak's "Smoldering City") says no more about the fire than is necessary to set up a comprehensive and rewarding account of the relief efforts and labor problems which followed the fire. Some articles necessarily range far beyond Chicago, providing a brief change of scene but not abandoning the development of local issues: Russell Lewis's article on the relationship between department stores in Paris and Chicago in the years before and after their 1889 and 1892 Worlds Fairs links local and international developments in the context of the growth of the middle class in the nineteenth century and of western consumer economies; yet it also benefits from appearing in close proximity both to Beverly Gordon's "A Furor of Benevolence" on the Civil War-era Sanitary Commission Fairs (which began as homespun philanthropic affairs but quickly evolved into national competitions of showmanship and commercialism) and to Harold L. Platt's "Samuel Insull and the Electric City." But it is in the sequence of articles on the railroad strike of 1877 and Haymarket that this book is at its best: the account of the strike - now little-known, but then cataclysmic - sets the stage for Haymarket, which in turn is treated by Carl S. …


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