Return to Bibliography
Sawislak, Karen. Smoldering City : Chicagoans and the Great Fire, 1871-1874, Historical Studies of Urban America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
In this book, Sawislak describes the rebuilding of the city of Chicago after the Great Fire. She discusses the motivations behind the reconstruction of the city's core and various Chicagoans' sense of civic order. Sawislak delves into issues such as charity, welfare, employment and the role of the state with regard to the rebuilding of the city. Native-born businessmen, social reformers, and the different ethnic groups in Chicago were struggling for influence in the planning if the new urban space. By describing all the groups jockeying for power to control how the new city would be built, Sawislak paints a compelling portrait of how politics (by Aristotle's definition) shaped the new layout of the city. The built environment is not discussed at great length, although she does highlight the controversies surrounding low income housing and the battle for control of the design of working class structures. Sawislak sees the rebuilding of Chicago after the Great Fire to be the commencement of the urban community problems still being experienced today. More illustrations would have been helpful in allowing the reader to visualize the actual physical space of the city, but the work as a whole does a good job of describing the genesis of the modern Chicago landscape. [E. Benedict]