Now that a Richard M. Daley biography is coming out next year, it’s worth putting together a list of the essential Chicago political books. Here are 10 that cover every topic from the Gray Wolves to Big Bill Thompson to Richard J. Daley to Barack Obama.
Boss, by Mike Royko: The ur-text of Chicago politics. Not so much a biography of Richard J. Daley as the biography of the political machine that enabled this mediocre, inarticulate schemer to reach the pinnacle of Chicago politics.
American Pharaoh, by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor: An in-depth study of Daley and his times, by two journalists too young to hate him.
We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent: An Oral History of the Daley Years, by Milton R. Rakove: Interviews with Daley’s allies and enemies, including Abner Mikva, who provided the title with an anecdote about a ward boss’s reaction when he tried to volunteer for the Adlai Stevenson campaign. Rakove followed it with a sequel, Don’t Make No Waves, Don’t Back No Losers.
Big Bill of Chicago, by Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan: The most colorful mayor in Chicago history, Republican William Hale Thompson brought blacks into Chicago politics, opened the town up to Al Capone, then lost his job to Anton Cermak, founder of the Democratic Machine.
Grafters and Goo-Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago, 1833-2003, by James L. Merriner: A history of Chicago’s endless tug-of-war between regulars and reformers.
Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama: Obama’s memoir describes his early encounters with Chicago politicians. Harold Washington dedicates an employment center Obama lobbied for. Emil Jones would become Obama’s mentor in the state senate, but here he’s dismissed as a “ward heeler.”
Fire on the Prairie, by Gary Rivlin: The best history of Harold Washington’s administration, by a reporter who covered it for the Chicago Reader.
Rogues, Rebels and Rubber Stamps: The Politics of the Chicago City Council, 1863 to the Present, by Dick Simpson: A former alderman describes how the Council was transformed from lawmaking body to Daley politburo.
Bitter Fruit: Black Politics and the Chicago Machine, 1931-1991, by William J. Grimshaw: How black politicians revolted from the Machine, building a movement that elected Harold Washington, and led to the ascension of Obama.
The Governor, by Rod Blagojevich: After all those heavy books, you’ll need some comic relief.