Monday, January 31, 2011

What I'm Reading: Boss

Nothing has helped me get to know Chicago better than Mike Royko and "Boss," his book about Richard J. Daley's steady rise to the mayor's office. First of all, Royko is top notch. A friend of Studs Terkel, Royko turns a scathing and unblinking eye on the Machine—Chicago's legendarily corrupt system, dominated by the Democrat party.

It's a case study in power management, and it's an eye-opening account of how masterfully one puppeteer can manipulate the marionette of a supposedly democratic American city.

Part of Royko's brilliance comes from his perspicacious understanding of the way things really worked in mid-century Chicago, and more importantly, what the public face of politics actually meant behind the curtains.

This line sums it up perfectly:

"This town was built by great men who demanded that drunkards and harlots be arrested, while charging them rent until the cops arrived."

Of course, the Daley dynasty was just beginning with Richard J. His son Richard M. came afterward. In fact, he's only just leaving. And his other son Bill just joined Obama in Washington while his predecessor Rahm Emanuel returned to Chicago to take Richard's spot. (You might know Rahm as a) Obama's former Chief of Staff or b) the brother of Ari, who's the inspiration for the eponymous agent in "Entourage.")
The fact that Chicago's mayoral race is in full swing only makes the reading experience better.

Here's Royko talking about his softball prowess and his death wish—to collapse at home plate after hitting the game-winning home run—at the Billy Goat, one of Chicago's more famous bars.

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