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Good Chicago Blogs

An annotated blog roll of local favorites of mine. Plus: some underrated Chicago books, and brief advertisements for myself.

I am told that my former employer had some nice things to say about me. If you are reading this because of that, here are some fine blogs deserving of readership.

Chicago Muckrakers: the Chicago Reporter’s blog, anchored by the outstanding young journalist Megan Cottrell.

Working In These Times: A group labor blog from In These Times, featuring three writers I’ve been reading for a long time (David Moberg, Kari Lydersen, and Lindsay Beyerstein) and a couple new ones to me (labor reporter Mike Elk and labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein). Moberg’s 1989 Reader piece “The Fuel of a New Machine” remains, for me, a vital piece in understanding the development of Chicago politics.

Capitol Fax: Essential reading on Illinois politics. Spend some time in the comments section—Rich Miller gets a well-informed crowd with diverse political viewpoints that manages to be cordial, thanks in part to Miller’s willingness to step in when things get dumb.

Progress Illinois: Handy for both quick takes on the news and longer, analytical takes on city and state policy. They’ve done some great work on tax policy that deserves more attention.

She Simmers: Thai cooking blog that got a well-deserved shout-out in the Reader’s Best-Of issue.

Sociolgraphy: The blog of immensely talented photographer David Schalliol, whose training as a sociologist (U. of C. PhD student, visiting assistant prof at IIT) informs his work.

The Science Essayist: On temporary semi-hiatus as the author works at a bird observatory in Sweden, but a good place to go for meditative essays on the sciences, with a particular focus on ornithology. Like a more elegiac version of the late Jerry Sullivan’s “Field and Street” column.

The Tiny Aviary: The blog of my favorite Chicago illustrator/gig poster artist. Yes, I have a thing about birds.

Hack: Illustrated miniatures of Chicago life from the driver’s seat of a cab, by SAIC-trained cabbie Dmitry Samarov. A very good example of why I love the Internet. Take it from literary-agent-turned-comedian John Hodgman: “He owned the first cellular phone that I ever saw, and he has been broadcasting back from the strange frontier of hack life ever since. He’s a good driver, but more than that, he’s as skilled a navigator of the forgotten American city as you’ll find, and his writing is funny, grim, humane, and welcome.” Even though I’m a digital editor, I couldn’t be happier that it’s going to be a real print book.

Lee Sandlin: Not technically a blog, but packed with some of the best things ever written in the city. Start with “The American Scheme” and “Losing the War.”

Lee Bey’s Chicago: An outstanding architectural observer and photographer with an approach grounded in history and media.

Gapers Block’s Mechanics: Especially now, since they’re on top of the chaos at Whittier, which is going on as I write this.

Accounting Watchdog: Forbes blog by Francine McKenna of re: The Auditors. It’s pretty arcane, focusing on high-level accounting, and I’m not going to pretend like I understand all of it. But that’s good—it pushes me, and teaches me about an undercovered aspect of contemporary finance.

Steven Can Plan & Grid Chicago: There’s been a lot made about “hyperlocal” journalism/blogging in recent years, but another form of being granular about the city is to sink your teeth into a particular, very focused subject. Both of these blogs are very good at that, specifically about biking, public transportation, and other forms of sustainable transportation. And creating real change: I think Steven Vance had a lot to do with the CPD’s decision to improve the collected data on bike accidents.

 District 299: A must-read on CPS issues.

The Steppes of Chicago & A Chicago Sojourn: Architecture writing the way I like it: focused on the city as it’s lived.

Fake Shore Drive: Probably has more of a monopoly on its subject than anyone else in Chicago has on any subject.

My apologies if I missed anyone that I regularly read; if I did, I try to link to my favorite places regularly.


A couple undersung Chicago books:

Here’s the Deal: The book to read if you want to understand what the hell happened with Block 37.

A Foot in Each World: An anthology of pieces by late Chicago Tribune columnist Leanita McClain. WBEZ’s Natalie Moore explains why McClain was an important writer.

1,001 Afternoons in Chicago: A foundational work of literary journalism by the writer of The Front Page.


The best essay I’ve ever read about Chicago: “Mr. Bellow’s Planet,” by Brent Staples. I don’t think it’s available online, but it is in Staples’ autobiography, Parallel Time, and the excellent anthology Literary Journalism. Perfectly captures the experience of living in Hyde Park in the winter.


Why does anyone like this blog? Beats me, but here are a couple of my personal favorite posts:

“Alinea, the Art of Food, and Food as Art”: An attempt to link the current Chicago food scene to the city’s economic history.

“How the Blizzard of 1979 Cost the Election for Michael Bilandic”: Exploring in greater detail what everybody already knows. The most interesting thing to me: the role of poor engineering design in the failures of the CTA, and by extension Bilandic’s collapse. Of all the things that bedeviled Bilandic, the CTA’s performance was possibly the most significant. Cooling vents in the train engines caused the wintry mix to wreck the engines; the reduction in the number of operating trains resulted in station closures; station closures led to racial tension.

“Blagojevich Trial: Is Blago Too Unserious for Jail Time?”: Just a lot of fun to research.

“Apocalypse Oak Park: Dorothy Martin, the Chicagoan Who Predicted the End of the World and Inspired the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”: A fascinating little mid-century story about a housewife/prophet that ended up as the centerpiece of a groundbreaking (and very readable) book about cult psychology.

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