Chicago Magazine's "Best of Chicago" issue is on stands now. Among the 90 superlatives - ranging from Best Dog Groomer to Best Eyebrow Waxer - was a listing for their choice of the best new book on Chicago (And, no. I didn't make that up about the eyebrow waxer.): Chicago 1890: The Skyscraper and the Modern City by Joanna Merwood-Salisbury (University of Chicago Press).
The synopsis of the book from the UofC Press website reads as follows:
Chicago’s first skyscrapers are famous for projecting the city’s modernity around the world. But what did they mean at home, to the Chicagoans who designed and built them, worked inside their walls, and gazed up at their façades? Answering this multifaceted question, Chicago 1890 reveals that early skyscrapers offered hotly debated solutions to the city’s toughest problems and, in the process, fostered an urban culture that spread across the country.
An ambitious reinterpretation of the works of Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and John Wellborn Root, this volume uses their towering achievements as a lens through which to view late nineteenth-century urban history. Joanna Merwood-Salisbury sheds new light on many of Chicago’s defining events—including violent building trade strikes, the Haymarket bombing, the World’s Columbian Exposition, and Burnham’s Plan of Chicago—by situating the Masonic Temple, the Monadnock Building, and the Reliance Building at the center of the city’s cultural and political crosscurrents.
While architects and property owners saw these pioneering structures as manifestations of a robust American identity, immigrant laborers and social reformers viewed them as symbols of capitalism’s inequity. Illuminated by rich material from the period’s popular press and professional journals, Merwood-Salisbury’s chronicle of this contentious history reveals that the skyscraper’s vaunted status was never as inevitable as today’s skylines suggest.
I'm sorry to say that I have not read the book yet. I'm embarrassed to say that I wasn't even aware of it before seeing it in the magazine. But, I have located a video of Merwood-Salisbury discussing the issues and ideas presented in the book on The Skyscraper Museum website. The Skyscraper Museum is in New York City, "the world's first and foremost vertical metropolis..." (Their words; not mine.)But to be absolutely clear, Chicago is the the birthplace of the skyscraper. Period.
What's your pick of the best new book on Chicago?
The Skyscraper Page (Chicago)
Photo credit: Masonic Temple (Wikipedia)