Non-fiction for the general reader.  Anecdotal rather than analytical, but good for capturing the flavor of the city and the times.

Asbury.  Gem of the Prairie. (1940)  A century of Chicago crime stories.  From the author of “The Gangs of New York.”

Berkow.  Maxwell Street. (1977)  Oral history of the dearly-departed bazaar and the surrounding neighborhood.

Drury.  Chicago in Seven Days. (1930)  A guide book for “people in a hurry.”  Covers all sections of the city, as they were ninety years ago.  Superior to the more-famous “WPA Guide” of a few years later.

Larson.  The Devil in the White City. (2003)  Engrossing blend of historical fact and speculative fiction about an 1893 serial killer.  Not to be missed!

Lait & Mortimer.  Chicago Confidential. (1950)  Over-the-top expose of the city’s seamy side.  A journalistic ancestor to “The National Enquirer.”

Poole.  Giants Gone. (1943)  The first novelist to win a Pulitzer Prize writes about twenty Chicago movers-and-shakers, many of whom he knew personally.

Royko.  For the Love of Mike. (2001)  Posthumous collection drawn from 30-plus years of newspaper columns,  just one of nine Royko anthologies.  All of them are priceless.

Schmidt.  Hidden Chicago Landmarks. (2019)  Visits to 60 notable landmarks and neighborhood that aren’t on the usual tour.  Buy several for your friends and Chicago expats. 

Schmidt.  On This Day in Chicago History. (2014)  A collection of 366 short pieces about the city, one for each day of the year.  

Schmidt.  The Bowling Chronicles. (2017)  Anthology of 90 articles and feature stories I wrote for “Bowlers Journal” over the course of 27 years.  OK, it’s not a Chicago book—but I’m plugging it here, anyway! 

Schmidt.  Unknown Chicago Tales. (2021)  My latest book.  Little-known and forgotten stories of politics, sports, movies, and other topics.  Often charming, sometimes ugly, but seldom dull.

Wendt & Kogan.  Big Bill of Chicago. (1953)  Breezy biography of the bad-boy mayor of the 1920s.

The 1902 Edition of the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue. (1969 reprint)  If you don’t have a time machine, this is the easiest way to experience everyday life at the turn of the 20th Century.


Thoughtful studies of Chicago history.  All are interesting and important, and many have the added virtue of being readable.

Allswang.  A House for All Peoples. (1971)  An examination of ethnic politics and the building of the Chicago Democratic Machine.

Caxton Club, The.  Chicago By the Book. (2018)  Essays by various authors on 101 publications that shaped the city and its image.  Great for helping you decide which Chicago-book you’ll read next.  

Condit.  Chicago: 1910-29. (1973)  Building, planning, and urban technology.  A second volume covers the period 1930-70.

Drake & Cayton.  Black Metropolis. (1945)  Pioneering study of African Americans in the urban North.

Grossman et al.  The Encyclopedia of Chicago. (2004)  The title says it all.  Everything you ever wanted to know about the city and the ‘burbs in 1117 pages—including my own piece on Park Ridge.

Mayer & Wade.  Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis. (1969)  How a frontier outpost grew into a world-class city.  Concentrates on physical development—buildings, bridges, parks, and so on.  Over 1,000 pictures and 50 maps.

Pacyga.  Chicago: A Biography. (2009)  Well-written history of our favorite city in a single volume.

Pierce.  A History of Chicago.  3 vols (1937, 1940, 1957)  The most thorough scholarly study of the city’s early years—it ends with the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  The author died while working on a fourth volume.  Will anyone ever attempt to continue her work?  

Schmidt.  The Mayor Who Cleaned Up Chicago. (1989)  This is my own book about William E. Dever.  Looking back, I would have done a few things differently.  But it’s a lot harder to change a book than it is to change a blog.


Novels based in Chicago.

Dreiser.  Sister Carrie. (1900)  Wisconsin farm girl comes to the city and gets corrupted.  Because of its themes, parts of the book were cut on publication.  The 1997 “unexpurgated” version is the one to get.

Farrell.  Young Lonigan. (1932)  Growing up poor and Irish on the South Side.  Not to everyone’s taste.  If you like this one, there are two subsequent books in the Lonigan trilogy.

Kaminsky.  You Bet Your Life. (1978)  “Toby Peters” detective mystery set in 1940s Chicago.  Starring The Marx Brothers, with guest appearances by Al Capone, Ian Fleming, and Richard J. Daley.

7 Responses to “Favorite Books”

  1. 1 Ken Barker January 14, 2015 at 4:23 am

    Thank you for the suggestions and I have placed the two books by John R. Schmidt at the top of the list. I’m off to Amazon.

  2. 2 Philip A. Lundy May 10, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    I just found your web site. I grew up at 8855 S. Laflin. Grammar school at St.Ethelredas’ and CVS for high school. Your photos are fantastic and I thank you for allowing to view them. I turn 80 in June.

  3. 4 Nedra December 22, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Thank you for the interesting list. I grew up on 89th Paxton Ave, went to Hoyne, Warren, & Bowen Schools. Thank you for your blog.

  4. 6 dianeledet July 11, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    I’ve read a number of these books. I always find pleasure in a Chicago connection while reading!

  5. 7 Anne Ward March 11, 2020 at 10:46 pm

    Max Allan Collins Nathan Heller series would be a s good addition to this list

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