The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream

Thomas Dyja

• Winner of the Chicago Tribune‘s 2013 Heartland Prize

• The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2013

• American Society of Landscape Architects Best Books of 2013

• Huffington Post’s 13 Best Books of 2013

Though today it can seem as if all American culture comes out of New York and Los Angeles, much of what defined the nation as it grew into a superpower was produced in Chicago, then the nation’s central clearinghouse, laboratory, and factory. Between the end of World War II and 1960, Mies van der Rohe’s glass and steel architecture became the face of corporate America, Ray Kroc’s McDonald’s changed how we eat, Hugh Hefner unveiled Playboy, and Chess Records supercharged rock and roll with Chuck Berry. The outlaw novels of Nelson Algren, the poems of Gwendolyn Brooks, the gospel music of Mahalia Jackson, the urban blues of Muddy Waters, and the avant-garde jazz of Sun Ra all led toward the future. Studs Terkel’s innovative radio shows and the intimacy of the Chicago School of Television changed media, and Second City alumni are everywhere in entertainment.

Despite this creative diversity, race informed virtually every aspect of life in Chicago. As whites either fled to the suburbs or battled integration, urban planners designed away “blight” with projects that marred a generation of American cities. The election of Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1955 launched a frenzy of building along with a self-satisfied provincialism that sped the end of the city’s central role.

The Third Coast tells the story of Chicago in its postwar prime and explains its profound impact on modern America, and the world.