Friday, April 26, 2019

Chicago by the Book

Chicago by the Book: 101 Publications That Shaped the City and Its Image
The Caxton Club (Editor)
University of Chicago Press, November 2018



Hardcover | 8-1/2 x 9-1/2 inches | 336 pages | 101+ illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-0226468501 | $35.00

Publisher Description:
Despite its rough-and-tumble image, Chicago has long been identified as a city where books take center stage. In fact, a volume by A. J. Liebling gave the Second City its nickname. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle arose from the midwestern capital’s most infamous industry. The great Chicago Fire led to the founding of the Chicago Public Library. The city has fostered writers such as Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Chicago’s literary magazines The Little Review and Poetry introduced the world to Eliot, Hemingway, Joyce, and Pound. The city’s robust commercial printing industry supported a flourishing culture of the book. With this beautifully produced collection, Chicago’s rich literary tradition finally gets its due.

Chicago by the Book profiles 101 landmark publications about Chicago from the past 170 years that have helped define the city and its image. Each title—carefully selected by the Caxton Club, a venerable Chicago bibliophilic organization—is the focus of an illustrated essay by a leading scholar, writer, or bibliophile.
dDAB Commentary:
The description of this beautifully made and carefully edited book boasts that Chicago is a literary city "despite its rough-and-tumble image." Ask any architect and they'll probably agree that Chicago is rough and tumble, but they'll also say it's one of the most important cities around the world — if not the most important — when it comes to architecture over the last 150 years. Therefore, how do books and architecture overlap in the Windy City? If we take the Claxton Club's selection of 101 books from 1844 to 2015 as the best indication, there's a good deal of architecture/literature overlap. A quick count from the table of contents yields at least 20 books directly or marginally related to architecture. So at least one-fifth of Chicago by the Book deals with the design and construction of the city's buildings and landscapes. This percentage describes the importance people in Chicago have given to the shaping of their built environment since the Great Fire of 1871, but it also points to the significant role of books and other texts in that process.

Chicago by the Book presents its selection of 101 books in chronological order. Even if one just reads about the 20 architecture-related titles in order, the selection hits upon most of the important moments in the city's physical evolution, from the Great Chicago Lake Tunnel in the 1860s and Bennett and Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago, to Mies van der Rohe's towers at 860 and 880 Lake Shore Drive and Carl Condit's definition of "The Chicago School of Architecture." Given the fact that Mies's towers are included as a sales brochure from 860 Lake Shore Drive Trust — much less read and available than Condit's book or any other book collected here — it does seem that the Claxton Club used any available means (even a questionable one) to touch upon some of the most important Chicago voices and milestones. Each of the 101 publications is documented with one or two photos (usually of the book, but in the case of Mies's towers, visible in the bottom spread, of them under construction) and a description by a prominent contemporary Chicagoan. The selection of the writers is excellent, with Robert Bruegmann describing Condit's book, for instance, and architect John Ronan discussing Mies. For ages I disliked books about books, but titles such as Chicago by the Book are making me more and more a fan of them.
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Author Bio:
The Caxton Club was founded in Chicago in January 1895 by fifteen ardent bibliophiles. ... Today, the Caxton Club numbers over 300 resident and non-resident members of all ages—authors, binders, book artists, collectors, conservators, dealers, designers, editors, librarians, publishers, and scholars—who still share the love of books.
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