AMERICAN PHARAOH by Adam Cohen

AMERICAN PHARAOH

Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A monumental biography of Chicago’s six-term mayor that elevates the coarse and cunning political boss to the status of an American icon.

It’s hard to argue with the assertion of journalists Cohen (Time) and Taylor (Chicago Tribune) that Daley was the biggest political boss of the last century. The only child of a working-class, Irish-Catholic family, Daley started out as a laborer in the city's infamous stockyards and, despite the fancy suits and limousines he later indulged as prerogatives of power, always claimed to be just another hard-working man who took care of the people who voted for him. In the city's working-class Bridgeport neighborhood, the young Daley did the boring detail work that local Democratic precinct captains didn’t like, got out the vote, kicked back to those who favored him, and never forgot a face. More a plodder than a charismatic leader, Daley worked his way through law school, remained faithful to his wife, refrained from smoking or drinking, and never stole from the public trough—though he had no problems lying to the press and collecting two salaries (beginning in 1955) as both mayor and Democratic Party chairman. A stickler for clean streets, he surrounded himself with glad-handers, thugs, bureaucratic hacks, and ward heelers who doled out patronage jobs, exploited racist fears, and salted election returns. The darling of the national Democratic Party after Illinois provided the crucial votes that put Kennedy in the White House in 1960, Daley let the city’s business elite launch urban-renewal schemes that improved the skyline while reinforcing racial and economical segregation. He became a national embarrassment when journalists were beaten by police during the 1968 Democratic convention, but (despite numerous scandals) he remained in control of the city up to the moment he died in 1976.

A breathlessly engrossing history of a classic urban political machine and the powerbroker who ran it his way. (16 pages b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: May 23rd, 2000
ISBN: 0-316-83403-3
Page count: 632pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2000




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