cover image The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream

The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream

Thomas Dyja. Penguin Press, $29.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-59420-432-6

Novelist and Chicago native Dyja (Play for a Kingdom) delivers a magisterial narrative of mid-20th century Chicago, once America’s “primary meeting place, market, workshop and lab.” Dyja covers the period from the 1930s through the 1950s, when Chicago produced much of what became postwar America’s way of life: Mies van der Rohe’s glass and steel skyscrapers; TV’s soap operas; Ray Kroc’s McDonald’s franchise; Hugh Hefner’s Playboy empire; and the Chess Brothers’ recording studio that unleashed Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, urban blues, and rock ’n’ roll. Though the book focuses on Chicago’s pivotal role in producing America’s mass-market culture, Dyja highlights how Chicago was also wrestling with the counterculture—the improvisational theater of Second City, the urban poor in Gwendolyn Brooks’s poetry and Nelson Algren’s novels, Moholy’s experimental Institute of Design, and new styles in television and music aimed at people, not markets. As Dyja notes, racial strife pervaded all aspects of life in the city, which was home to the National Baptist Convention; the Harlem Globetrotters; major black press outlets (Ebony and Jet, among others); and Emmett Till, whose murder sparked the Civil Rights movement. Dyja explores Chicago’s politics, and how the city’s leadership attempted to address the “racial wound,” caused, in part, by placing all public housing in black neighborhoods. What emerges is a luminous, empathetic, and engrossing portrait of a city. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM. (Apr.)