A selection of some but not all not-to-be-missed Chicago books, with apologies to Saul Bellow (The Adventures of Augie March), Theodore Dreiser (Sister Carrie), James T. Farrell (the Studs Lonigan trilogy), Studs Terkel (Division Street), and a multitude of other contenders.
American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto | Sudhir Venkatesh | As a U. of C. sociology grad student, Venkatesh spent almost ten years doing research in the Robert Taylor Homes to create a nuanced portrait of life in the public housing development.
Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago | Mike Royko | It doesn't get much better than this: Royko's classic, withering account of the career of King Richard the First.
The Coast of Chicago | Stuart Dybek | Lyrical short stories that combine to create an intimate tour of the ethnic south side.
Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse | Steve Bogira | An unprecedented look by Reader staff writer Bogira at how the American judicial system, in the form of the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, works--and doesn't.
Crossing California | Adam Langer | A former Reader contributor's wry take on growing up Jewish in the 70s in West Rogers Park.
The Devil in the White City | Erik Larson | Justly acclaimed historical fiction weaving together the stories of architect and city planner Daniel Burnham and serial killer H.H. Holmes, set against the backdrop of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.
Fire on the Prairie: Chicago's Harold Washington and the Politics of Race | Gary Rivlin | The definitive chronicle of Chicago politics in the tumultuous 70s, by a former Reader staffer.
Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago | Eric Klinenberg | A dissection of the social and political conditions that led to the deaths of hundreds of people during the heat wave of 1995.
The Jungle | Upton Sinclair | Muckracking 1906 novel that blew the lid off the inhuman working conditions of the Chicago stockyards and inspired lasting political change. Not for the squeamish.
The Man With the Golden Arm | Nelson Algren | Dark classic about poverty and addiction that offers a gritty look at West Division Street and its denizens long before Mirai Sushi moved in.
Native Son | Richard Wright | Powerful and brutal, a landmark indictment of racism and social injustice in midcentury Chicago.
Nowhere Man | Aleksandar Hemon | Through his fictional alter ego Chicago's most famous Bosnian sketches the immigrant experience in Uptown in hilarious, painful detail.
There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America | Alex Kotlowitz | Controversial true story of two brothers growing up in the Henry Horner Homes that's become required reading for both urban journalists and children's welfare wonks.
The Time Traveler's Wife | Audrey Niffenegger | Full of shout-outs to Chicago sites like the Riv and the Newberry Library, this breakout 2003 novel by printmaker and book arts teacher Niffenegger is both an intricately structured fantasy and a three-hankie love story.