Best Popular Historian

Paul Durica

Critics' Picks

There's plenty of Chicago history shut up in the city's libraries, museums, and archives, but there's also plenty of it sitting out on the streets in plain view. You just need the right guide to show you. That's where Paul Durica comes in. As an instructor at and graduate of the U. of C. (his dissertation was on tramps, hobos, and transients in American literature), Durica knows how to navigate libraries, museums, and archives and extract interesting facts and information about the city's past. As the owner and proprietor of Pocket Guide to Hell (the name was inspired by the 19th-century British labor leader John Burns, who allegedly described Chicago as "a pocket edition of hell"), he uses those facts to enliven walking tours and re-creations of scenes from the city's history such as the Haymarket riots, the early days of the Board of Trade (as described in Frank Norris's novel The Pit), and the old First Ward, once the city's most, um, lively entertainment district. Sometimes Durica leads tours as himself; sometimes he dresses up as Ben Reitman, a medical doctor and self-styled "King of the Hobos" who was far less decorous than any of the characters you've encountered at Colonial Williamsburg. That said, Durica's version is probably not history exactly as it was lived—his version is way more fun.