25 Iconic Books That Celebrate Chicago

May 28, 2019

Whether you are a Chicago local or visitor, the city has so many stories to tell. While our walls can’t speak our stories, our people can.

Listed below are our recommendations of the best books that celebrate the eclectic cultural tapestry of Chicago. Enjoy the journey in time!

LITERATURE (FICTION, NON-FICTION, AND POETRY)

1. Chicago City on the Make by Nelson Algren
Algren’s 12,000-word essay on the 120-year-old history of Chicago focuses on the “nobodies, nobody knows.” The writer found the heart of Chicago in its downtrodden, impoverished alleys, and in the lives of its gangsters, hustlers, and corrupt politicians. But even in all its dark, Algren’s love for Chicago is absolute, “Once you’ve come to be part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.” This quality of ‘keeping it real’ has made the book one of Chicago’s favorite reads for over 60 years after it was first published.

Available on Amazon.com

2. Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow
The Nobel Laureate’s 1975 Pulitzer-winning novel is a narrative on American life between the 1930s and 1970s. The book’s protagonist, Charlie Citrine, is a Chicagoan who travels to New York to befriend his favorite poet. Bellow uses their relationship to portray contemporary life in a rapidly changing America, and the story plays out in the picaresque backdrops of New York and Chicago.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

3. Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks
The multiple-award-winning (she was the first black author to win the Pulitzer for Annie Allen) poet laureate’s (1985) work traces the transformation of a young African-American as she goes from being a self-centered romantic to a disillusioned damaged woman. Annie Allen is one of the great works to have come out of Chicago’s Black Renaissance — central themes include unrealized dreams and the brutality of racism.

Available on Amazon.com

4. The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perry
This is the true story that inspired Hollywood’s musical Chicago. Reporter Maurine Watkins’ article in the Chicago Tribune brought fame and celebrity status to Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan — both women were under trial for murdering their lovers. Far from damning them, the men of Chicago sent them flowers in jail, and women found emancipation in their act. Perry’s book captures all the sassy details of one of Chicago’s most famous crime of passion.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

5. Chicago by David Mamet
Looking for a fast-paced, page-turner that offers a glimpse into Chicago’s notorious 1920s? Oscar-nominated and Pulitzer-award winning David Mamet’s Chicago is set in the prohibition era and features the mob, a cynical journalist, a racy love-story with an Irish virgin, a complicated plot, and a cameo by Al Capone.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

PHOTOGRAPHY

6. The Photographer’s Guide to Chicago: 100 of the Best Locations and How to Photograph Them by Chris Smith
Chris Smith’s passion for photography led to the start of his blog Out of Chicago in 2011, and in 2013, his work was published in The Photographer’s Guide to Chicago: 100 of the Best Locations and How to Photograph Them. This is the best go-to guide for anyone who wants to take pictures of Chicago’s most iconic and interesting spaces. It lists everything you need to know about locations, the best time to shoot these locations, what kind of gear you’ll need, and even offers tips on post-processing.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

7. Chicago: Classic Photographs edited by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams
The editors have curated 100 images taken by some of Chicago’s greatest photographers including Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Art Shay. They’ve included photos of Chicago from the Loop to smaller neighborhoods, and some images show the city from a hundred years ago. A timeless souvenir for a timeless city.

Available on Amazon.com

8. Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found by Marvin Heiferman
She’s as famous as Mary Poppins, but this nanny’s magic wasn’t a flying umbrella, it was photography. Vivian Maier worked in Chicago as a nanny for 40 years and took over 100,000 photographs which remained a secret until they were discovered in 2007. The book features images of Chicago, New York, and various locations across the US.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

9. New Bauhaus Chicago by Museum Für Gestaltung Bauhaus – Archiv
Founded in Germany, the Bauhaus art and design movement gained currency in Chicago in the 1930s. The book features work by the institutions and individuals who founded Bauhaus Chicago and includes illustrations, abstract photograms, and conceptual photography.

Available on Amazon.com

10. Cool Chicago by Kathleen Maguire
Maguire was a guide at Walk Chicago Tours and she knows all the city’s hotspots and the local favorites. The book is a perfect souvenir of the city and features locations like Cloud Gate,
Poetry Foundation, The Original Rainbow Cone, and the DuSable Museum of African American History, to name a few.

Available on Amazon.com

FOOD

Art Institute Chicago

Image source: Art Institute Chicago

11. Chicago Food Crawls by Soo Park
Discover the cuisine of Chicago one crawl at a time. From hidden gems to long-standing, well-known eateries, the book features over 13 crawls that are centered around a neighborhood or a theme. Each crawl features between 3-8 establishments so whether you want to spend the day discovering an area through its food or have a fun night out, there’s a crawl to suit every mood.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

12. Street Food Chicago by Michael J. Baruch
This book by Chef Michael J. Baruch celebrates what Chicago eats every day. It acknowledges Chicago’s diverse culinary community and features recipes from a variety of cuisines like Greek, Polish, Italian, and Thai. Did you relish the burger at Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern? This book features the recipe for the Billy Goat Tavern’s cheeseburger, and a collection of other city favorites like the burger at Nicky’s, and gyros from the eateries in Greektown.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

13. Chicago: A Food Biography by Daniel R. Block and Howard B. Rosing
From the taverns around Wolf Point to the jazz clubs along the black belt, and modern-day Chicago’s eclectic cuisine defined by its culturally diverse population: the book traces the journey and role of Chicago as one of the foremost dining destinations in the States. A special treat: we loved reading about “destination restaurants,” where Hollywood celebrities dined during layovers between trains.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

14. Chicago’s Classic Restaurants: Past, Present & Future by Neal Samors and Eric Bronsky
This book explores the best of Chicago’s food through its best restaurants: from pre-1900 to now. Featured gems include Henrici’s, Le Perroquet, Lawrence of Oregano, Fritz, Girl and the Goat, and Boka.

Available on Amazon.com

15. The Chicago Food Encyclopedia edited by Carol Haddix, Bruce Kraig, and Colleen Taylor Sen

It’s everything you would expect from an encyclopedia. It has An A-Z of the city’s restaurants (including high-end Michelin superstars and street food favorites), over 100 delicious photos of the city’s most beloved dining rooms and food stands, and a multitude of writers, scholars, and experts who shed light on Chicago’s culinary experience.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN

16. Chicago’s Famous Buildings by Franz Schulze
Chicago’s Home Insurance Building (constructed in 1884-1885) was the world’s first skyscraper, and the city’s skyline boasts some the world’ greatest structures built by some of the world’s most renowned architects including legends Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. The book pays tribute to Chicago’s finest architecture.

Available on Amazon.com

17. Chicago Architecture and Design by Jay Pridmore
The birthplace of the open-plan home and urban office building, Chicago’s building style has influenced world architecture. The book chronicles the city’s evolving building and design from the 19th century until the early 21st century. A must-have for architecture and design aficionados and students.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

18. Chicagoisms: The City as Catalyst for Architectural Speculation by Alexander Eisenschmidt and Jonathan Mekinda
Essays that explore the history and culture of Chicago’s famous architecture. This is the perfect book for people who want to get to know a building rather than just look at its photo. The editors have included a variety of subjects ranging from the city’s role as a pioneer of modern architecture to discussing its pivotal influence on the global design stage.

Available on Amazon.com

19. Building Chicago: The Architectural Masterworks by John Zukowsky
It might be called America’s second city but when it comes to architecture, Chicago is the States’ crowning glory. Dedicated to the greatest works by Chicago’s greatest design masters, it showcases masterpieces like the Jay Pritzker Pavilion by Frank Gehry, and Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Available on Amazon.com

20. Art Deco Chicago by Robert Bruegmann, Jonathan Mekinda, Teri J. Edelstein, Lisa D. Schrenk, and Neil Harris
The Art Deco craze didn’t just stop at buildings and interiors, it was applied to clothes, advertising, and even food design. Chicago experienced its own wave of Art Deco brilliance and this book highlights 101 important works from the era with 325 images and essays by design experts.

Available on Amazon.com

HISTORY

21. Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis by Liesl Olson
Chicago writers like Saul Bellow, David Mamet and Gwendolyn Brooks’ contributions to modernism revolutionized literary form and structure. Olson’s book celebrates Chicago’s role in the modernist movement and sheds light on famous and lesser-known writers and artists that contributed to Chicago’s artistic expression.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

22. City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America by Donald L. Miller
This award-winning account of Chicago is a homage to the windy city’s turbulent, exciting and passionate history. It has everything from natural disasters (the Great Fire of 1871 and cholera epidemics) to mob politics, and an ode to Chicago’s great architecture.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

23. Chicago Soul by Robert Pruter
Pruter’s book is a fact-based, in-depth chronology of the rise of the blues in Chicago. It puts the spotlight on the performers, producers, and labels that contributed to the city’s rhythm-and-blues artistry from the 1950s until the 1970s.

Available on Amazon.com

24. Chicago Blues: The City and the Music by Mike Rowe and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories by David G. Whiteis
Does the sound of the blues warm your soul on icy, winter mornings? These books are for you. The sound of Chicago’s urban blues was created by the city’s repressed black musicians and invokes all the soul-stirring that arises when great pain is transformed into melancholic albeit deeply groovy music. The first book talks about the movement, and the second explores the people who made the moves: masters like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Otis Rush, and Eddie Taylor.

Chicago Blues: The City and the Music by Mike Rowe available on Amazon.com
Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories by David G. Whiteis available on Amazon.com

25. Art in Chicago: A History from the Fire to Now by Maggie Taft and Robert Cozzolino
It features famous movements like Chicago’s Bauhaus era, acknowledges contributions of lesser-known African American artists from the 1860s, and has interviews with contemporary artists shaping the city’s art scene. It’s basically everything you need to know about Chicago’s vivid visual art-scape.

Available on Amazon.com (Kindle version also available)

If you are a visitor, your trip to Chicago will be enriched by exploring some of the above titles. They will help you see the city through a different lens. You’ll see it not as a fixed entity, but as an organically evolving cultural landscape that continues to twist and turn as it accommodates influxes of new people, ideas, technologies, needs, and opportunities.

If you are looking for a last minute read, something to complement your stay here in Chicago, we accept packages on behalf of our guests (we’ll even hold it for your arrival). So order away! Or, when you are downtown, seek out the great independent bookstores — Barbara’s Bookstore or after-words bookstore — both just 2 blocks off of Michigan Avenue.

Need a stronger fix? Take a pilgrimage to the 57th Street Bookstore in Hyde Park near the University of Chicago. It doesn’t disappoint.

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The above article was written for this Chicago blog hosted by the Carlton Inn MidwayMidway Airport’s Best Value Hotel. The blog is meant to educate and entertain. Management does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information on this website. Carlton Inn Midway may make changes to the content or policies at any time without prior notice. That which was written above does not represent the voice of hotel management. Rather, it is the lone voice of the writer.