American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley – His Battle for Chicago and the Nation by Adam Cohen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A masterpiece that not only serves as a biography of Richard Daley, but shows us how the City of Chicago came to be what it is today. There have been some serious power brokers that have served as Mayors in America, but Richard Daley, in terms of acquiring and holding power, must rank at the top of that group. The book is detailed, but for those looking to see how municipal government works this might not be the book for you. In Chicago if Daley wanted it done it was done. Not a lot of grass roots organizing involved in getting decisions made and executed. The book properly focuses on how Daley’s perch as Chair of the Cook County Democratic machine was just as valuable to him, in many respects, as the Mayors job, allowing him to exert control not only in Chicago, but across the entire State of Illinois. The Democratic Convention of 1968 is covered very well, and is a history that many of us are familiar with. What I learned beyond my prior understanding was how official and conscious government acts by Daley contributed to the segregated housing landscape that existed in Chicago at that time. He molded the City, and his vision did not include integration of housing. Daley, due to these policies, had to try to face down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who came to Chicago to bring the civil rights movement to the urban north. Daley did not choose to overtly resist, but chose tactics that obfuscated his goals, promised progress, but delivered little.
A fascinating book that should be read by all those interested in the acquiring and holding of power. Daley, from that perspective and on a smaller scale, rivaled LBJ as a power politician. The book honestly depicts some of the awful things he did, but does its best to give Daley some credit where it might have been due. Having just read the Tom Menino book I think it could be fairly said that Daley predated Menino in putting forward malapropisms. A couple of great ones: “Gentlemen, get this thing straight once and for all. The policeman isn’t there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder.”
“Today the real problem is the future.”
This book is highly recommended.