In 2007, The New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl gave a talk at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in which he said that the hosting city was “a great place to be, if you have a particular reason.” He went on to call Chicago one of the “great receptor cities of the world” for all the artistic talent it sends to other places, maybe not realizing he had opened up old wounds inflicted by another New Yorker writer nearly 55 years earlier when the late A.J. Liebling proclaimed Chicago the “Second City,” behind Mr. Liebling’s hometown of New York. The most recent New York media potshot at Chicago was by Rachel Shteir, an ex-New Yorker and current Chicagoan, in a recent New York Times Book Review piece, “Chicago Manuals.” Ms. Shteir, who claimed not to be “some latter-day A.J. Liebling” in her attack on the city she has called home for the last 13 years, pointed out Chicago’s many faults, from rampant gun violence to the nation’s second-highest combined sales tax and the clear lines of segregation that zip through its neighborhoods. (Ms. Shteir’s review generated titanic reaction from the media in Chicago, all of it wounded, which pretty much proved her point; she wrote about the experience for the Observer.) I left Chicago over a decade ago, but I still recognize these problems in my beloved hometown. And yet I wondered what city doesn’t have a laundry list of specific failings.
Thomas Dyja, a Chicago native, doesn’t set out to change the view of contemporary Chicago with his latest book, The Third Coast. Instead, the book charts “When Chicago Built the American Dream” through a detailed look at postwar Chicago and how the Second City changed the course of America for good.