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The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dreamby Thomas Dyja
Synopses & Reviews
A New York Times Notable 100 Book of the year and Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2013
Though today it can seem as if all American culture comes out of New York and Los Angeles, much of what defined the nation as it grew into a superpower was produced in Chicago. Before air travel overtook trains, nearly every coast-to coast journey included a stop there, and this flow of people and commodities made it America's central clearinghouse, laboratory, and factory. Between the end of World War II and 1960, Mies van der Rohe's glass and steel architecture became the face of corporate America, Ray Kroc's McDonald's changed how we eat, Hugh Hefner unveiled Playboy, and the Chess brothers supercharged rock and roll with Chuck Berry. At the University of Chicago, the atom was split and Western civilization was packaged into the Great Books.
Yet even as Chicago led the way in creating mass-market culture, its artists pushed back in their own distinct voices. In literature, it was the outlaw novels of Nelson Algren (then carrying on a passionate affair with Simone de Beauvoir), the poems of Gwendolyn Brooks, and Studs Terkel's oral histories. In music, it was the gospel of Mahalia Jackson, the urban blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and the trippy avant-garde jazz of Sun Ra. In performance, it was the intimacy of Kukla, Fran and Ollie, the Chicago School of Television, and the improvisational Second City whose famous alumni are now everywhere in American entertainment.
Despite this diversity, racial divisions informed virtually every aspect of life in Chicago. The chaos—both constructive and destructive—of this period was set into motion by the second migration north of African Americans during World War Two. As whites either fled to the suburbs or violently opposed integration, urban planners tried to design away "blight" with projects that marred a generation of American cities. The election of Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1955 launched a frenzy of new building that came at a terrible cost—monolithic housing projects for the black community and a new kind of self-satisfied provincialism that sped the end of Chicago's role as America's meeting place. In luminous prose, Chicago native Thomas Dyja re-creates the story of the city in its postwar prime and explains its profound impact on modern America.
"Novelist and Chicago native Dyja (Play for a Kingdom) delivers a magisterial narrative of mid-20th century Chicago, once America's 'primary meeting place, market, workshop and lab.' Dyja covers the period from the 1930s through the 1950s, when Chicago produced much of what became postwar America's way of life: Mies van der Rohe's glass and steel skyscrapers; TV's soap operas; Ray Kroc's McDonald's franchise; Hugh Hefner's Playboy empire; and the Chess Brothers' recording studio that unleashed Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, urban blues, and rock 'n' roll. Though the book focuses on Chicago's pivotal role in producing America's mass-market culture, Dyja highlights how Chicago was also wrestling with the counterculture — the improvisational theater of Second City, the urban poor in Gwendolyn Brooks's poetry and Nelson Algren's novels, Moholy's experimental Institute of Design, and new styles in television and music aimed at people, not markets. As Dyja notes, racial strife pervaded all aspects of life in the city, which was home to the National Baptist Convention; the Harlem Globetrotters; major black press outlets (Ebony and Jet, among others); and Emmett Till, whose murder sparked the Civil Rights movement. Dyja explores Chicago's politics, and how the city's leadership attempted to address the 'racial wound,' caused, in part, by placing all public housing in black neighborhoods. What emerges is a luminous, empathetic, and engrossing portrait of a city. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A critically acclaimed history of Chicago at mid-century, featuring many of the incredible personalities that shaped American culture
Before air travel overtook trains, nearly every coast-to-coast journey included a stop in Chicago, and this flow of people and commodities made it the crucible for American culture and innovation. In luminous prose, Chicago native Thomas Dyja re-creates the story of the city in its postwar prime and explains its profound impact on modern America—from Chess Records to Playboy, McDonalds to the University of Chicago. Populated with an incredible cast of characters, including Mahalia Jackson, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Chuck Berry, Sun Ra, Simone de Beauvoir, Nelson Algren, Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Turkel, and Mayor Richard J. Daley, The Third Coast recalls the prominence of the Windy City in all its grandeur.
About the Author
Thomas Dyja is the author of three novels and two works of nonfiction. He also worked as an editor. A native of Chicagos Northwest Side, he was once called a real Chicago boy” by Studs Terkel.
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