Gary Krist's new book is City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago.
From his Q & A with Julie Zarlenga of the Gapers Block Book Club:
In the early 1900's things were changing across America as a whole. Why did you choose Chicago as a focus for this change?Learn more about the book and author at Gary Krist's website.
I'm really interested in big cities and how they change over time, how they evolve, because it's always a very tumultuous, almost Darwinian process with groups being in competition with each other. I wanted to look at it as almost a test case of the whole American idea of can we build a Democratic society based on this collection of people of all colors, races, creeds, nationalities. And so the question was, could this group of people from all over the world come together and put aside racial hatreds, put aside ethnic hatreds, and cultural differences, and build the city into an economic powerhouse. We know now that the answer is yes, but there were times as in 1919 when it looked like the experiment was not going to work.
Your previous book The White Cascade focused on the early 1900's as well. Is there a particular fascination with this time period?
I think of this era, the Progressive Era, the first two decades of the twentieth century as really being the adolescence of modernity. Technologically I think it was an adolescence, and also socially. I think cities were growing and they were growing faster than they could really adapt. That's what really interests me about this era. It really seems that change is happening so quickly and our ability to control the change has not gotten there yet so you get all kinds of excitement.
Why did you decide to make Chicago's mayor William Hale Thompson, or Big Bill as he was known, the focus of your book?
First of all, he is God's gift to any narrative history; he is just so colorful, so corrupt, with the big cowboy hat, and he was the leader of the city. I think he...[read on]
Before turning to narrative nonfiction with The White Cascade and City of Scoundrels, Krist wrote three novels--Bad Chemistry, Chaos Theory, and Extravagance--and two short-story collections--The Garden State and Bone by Bone.
The Page 69 Test: The White Cascade.
Writers Read: Gary Krist.
The Page 99 Test: City of Scoundrels.