Larry Bennett


On his book The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism

Cover Interview of November 30, 2010

A close-up

The Third City’s second chapter walks the reader through a series of Chicago literatures: sociological analyses, city planning documents aiming to describe future Chicagos, contemporary fiction set in Chicago, the journalism of Mike Royko.  The purpose is to illustrate some persistent “themes” in the interpretation of Chicago, pinpoint how these themes sometimes cross from, say, journalism to fiction, and ultimately, explain how the power of these themes can get in the way of coming to terms with the realities of the contemporary city. At many points along Chicago’s lakefront the fusion of city and nature is breathtaking. Photo by Larry Bennett

Your “just browsing” reader might want to begin with Mike Royko, who is typically described as the quintessential Chicago observer.  A lifelong resident of the city, Royko’s columns “speak” in an unvarnished Chicago dialect and present a city of straight talkers, many of them ethically challenged or racially narrow-minded.  His work, at its best, combines irreverent humor and astute social observation.

Royko’s work is also willfully imaginative, as demonstrated by his tour de force “day in the life of Daley” that constitutes the opening chapter of Boss, his profile of Mayor Richard J. Daley.  In these thirty or so pages, Royko moves from an account of Daley’s hour by hour movements—a narrative that is enlivened by well-chosen quotations illustrating the mayor’s view of the world—to a far more speculative inner monologue that has been invented by Royko to expose what “the Boss” was really thinking.

Though many readers construe Royko as just providing the facts and nothing more, Mike Royko’s Chicago is part reportage, and part skillful projection.  Moreover, his columns during the last 10 to 15 years of his career increasingly turned to nostalgic reminiscence, reminiscence that at times seemed to lose track of the contemporaneous Chicago the older Royko thought he was observing.