In her debut, Chicago journalist McKinney, “an expert on historic Chicago families,” offers an exhaustive account of four generations of madness, addiction, adultery and newspaper-publishing genius.
In 1855, Joseph Medill bought the Daily Tribune in a promising small town named Chicago. As Chicago boomed, so did the Tribune and Medill’s career. He became a friend and confidant of Abraham Lincoln and literally named and shaped the Republican Party. His life of publishing, wealth and political influence would become the template for the next three generations of the family. While his own daughters were limited in their ambitions by the times and their gender, not so the next generations. Colonel Robert McCormick, Medill’s grandson, made the Tribune the preeminent newspaper of the first half of the 20th century, with business acumen and a talent for hiring reporters and editors who could get the all-important scoop. His cousin Joe Patterson would do the same with the New York Daily News, Joe’s sister Cissy with the Washington Herald, and Cissy’s daughter Alicia with Long Island’s Newsday. But the privilege that such publishing prowess brought did not inure the family from Kennedy-like flaws and tragedy. The Colonel’s brother, who was mentally ill, took his own life, and alcoholism would spare few in the family. But privileged they were. All lived lives as American aristocrats, with multiple mansions, private railway cars, sojourns in Europe, and access to and acceptance among the most powerful families in America and the world. But if the family’s lives consisted only of extravagance verging on decadence, their story would be of little interest. It is their brilliance in publishing newspapers when newspapers really mattered, combined with lives full of fault lines, that truly fascinates. McKinney skillfully delineates their story.
A solid account of the life and times of a family that was indeed magnificent.