For September 9, 2014 Discussion
The Third Coast
by Thomas Dyja (544 pages)
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 new building along with a
self-satisfied provincialism that sped the end of the city’s central
The Third Coast tells the story of Chicago in its postwar prime and explains its profound impact on modern America, and the world.