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THE THIRD COAST
WHEN CHICAGO BUILT THE AMERICAN DREAM

• Chicago Public Library’s “One Book One Chicago” selection for 2015-16
• Winner of the Chicago Tribune‘s 2013 Heartland Prize
The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2013
• American Society of Landscape Architects Best Books of 2013
• Huffington Post’s 13 Best Books of 2013

Though today it can seem as if all American culture comes out of New York and Los Angeles, much of what defined the nation as it grew into a superpower was produced in Chicago, then the nation’s central clearinghouse, laboratory, and factory. Between the end of World War II and 1960, Mies van der Rohe’s glass and steel architecture became the face of corporate America, Ray Kroc’s McDonald’s changed how we eat, Hugh Hefner unveiled Playboy, and Chess Records supercharged rock and roll with Chuck Berry. The outlaw novels of Nelson Algren, the poems of Gwendolyn Brooks, the gospel music of Mahalia Jackson, the urban blues of Muddy Waters, and the avant-garde jazz of Sun Ra all led toward the future. Studs Terkel’s innovative radio shows and the intimacy of the Chicago School of Television changed media, and Second City alumni are everywhere in entertainment.

Despite this creative diversity, race informed virtually every aspect of life in Chicago. As whites either fled to the suburbs or battled integration, urban planners designed away “blight” with projects that marred a generation of American cities. The election of Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1955 launched a frenzy of new building along with a self-satisfied provincialism that sped the end of the city’s central role.

The Third Coast tells the story of Chicago in its postwar prime and explains its profound impact on modern America, and the world.
PRAISE & REVIEWS

“This gallery of vivid portraits makes for an intensely engaging book, notable for its intellectual breadth, arms-wide research and high-octane prose that keeps it riding high over the mass of details.”
Scott Turow, The New York Times
FULL REVIEW >

“Thomas Dyja has clearly done his homework. The Third Coast is deeply researched, thoroughly thought-out, exquisitely structured and beautifully written — an essential for any lover of Chicago and American history…Dyja’s lens is wide-angle with a killer zoom…[his] energetic, colorful, vigorous prose is the other real joy of this book. Dyja crafts lines that should be carved in stone the next time Chicago gets around to building a new downtown park.”
Bill Savage, Chicago Tribune
FULL REVIEW >

“Think New York and L.A. are America’s premier cultural capitals? This engrossing history of Chicago may change your mind.”
People

“A rollicking cultural history… What’s a given now was often given by Chicago: high-rises, gospel and the blues, TV talk shows, Playboy, McDonalds, sketch comedy…Was it all dazzling coincidence or, as Dyja suggests, something in the water?”
James Warren, Vanity Fair

“Dyja’s robust cultural history…. zooms in on the qualities Chicagoans value and does it better than anyone else I’ve read: informality; the desire to be “regular”; the conviction among artists that “the process was as important as the product.”
New York Times Sunday Book Review (cover)
FULL REVIEW >

“My God, how I enjoyed this book…The Third Coast rolls along like a nonfiction version of E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, moved from New York to Chicago, with half a century gone by…The book is an extraordinarily good read, with writing that sparkles.”
Seattle Times
FULL REVIEW >

The Third Coast…has an elegant, unflinching, non-nostalgic clarity…a new touchstone in Chicago literature… an ambitious history lesson no one had written.”
Christopher Borelli, Chicago Tribune
FULL FEATURE >

“An enchantment…a terrific book that’s as much art as history.”
Michael Miner, Chicago Reader
FULL REVIEW >

“This is a love story. About a people. About a city. About a time…”The Third Coast” raises new awareness…For the vast world beyond Chicago, this is a story of what might have been. For Chicagoans it’s the ongoing saga of what is.”
Newcity Lit
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“A magisterial narrative of mid-20th century Chicago…a luminous, empathetic, and engrossing portrait of a city.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
FULL REVIEW >

The Third Coast is an affectionate but honest examination of a great city’s life.”
Dallas Morning News
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“[A] robust, outspoken, zestfully knowledgeable, and seductively told synthesis of biography, culture, politics, and history…[written] with velocity, wry wit, and tough lyricism…
Booklist (starred review)

“A readable, richly detailed history of America’s second city ….A valuable contribution to the history of Chicago, worthy of a place alongside William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis.”
Kirkus
full review >

I am an American, not Chicago-born, but at age nine Chicago was the first big city I visited, and it was love at first sight. I’ve come to know it deeply, however, only through its writers: Saul Bellow, Richard Wright, Studs Terkel, Mike Royko — and now Tom Dyja. The Third Coast is a vivid, fascinating, surprising, altogether masterful chronicle of this quintessentially American city’s mid-century cultural heyday.
Kurt Andersen, author of True Believers and host of Studio 360

This is a book as startling as the place it celebrates: Chicago, the town where a gay puppeteer transformed children’s television and thereby, their imagination; the burg where post-war comedy, cuisine, urban politics, and pre-marital sex were all changed, changed utterly. Dyja gives unforgettable voice to dozens of out-sized personalities, from Sun Ra to Studs Terkel, from Gwendolyn Brooks to Nelson Algren, from Mahalia Jackson to Muddy Waters, from Richard Daley to Adlai Stevenson, a cast worthy of a Tolstoi or Dickens. In his wonderful book, Chicago stands revealed as both America’s most corrupt city and its one, true homeland of the soul.
Anthony Heilbut, author of Exiled in Paradise and The Fan Who Knew Too Much

Tom Dyja’s Third Coast is a wonderful, beautifully-written eye-opener and genuine page-turner about Chicago, as sweeping and astonishing as the city itself. It does nothing less than help rewrite postwar American history and culture and cure our bi-coastal myopia, linking half-a-century’s worth of economic and social changes with cultural revolution, racial strife with sexual upheaval, architecture with politics, literature with gospel music, Hugh Hefner with Tina Fey, Mies van der Rohe with Mayor Daley, Ray Kroc with Katherine Kuh — it’s the whole grand, messy American story, lived through bigger-than-life characters in a bigger-than-life city.
Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic, New York Times

Thomas Dyja’s The Third Coast unravels the wondrous history of Chicago with cunning and aplomb. Every aspect of the Windy City is revealed anew from Mies van der Rohe’s skyscrapers to Chuck Berry’s rock n’ roll. A truly gripping narrative. Highly recommended!
Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite

Thomas Dyja has written a wonderful book about the cultural cauldron that seethed in 20th century Chicago. The Third Coast reminds us that New York and Los Angeles hold no monopoly on American artistic genius. From Louis Sullivan to Richard Wright, from Mahalia Jackson to Nelson Algren, Chicago attracted and inspired talent. Dyja’s well-crafted exploration of Chicago creativity helps us understand why cities are the wellsprings of culture. American society was molded by its cities, and Chicago has played an outsized role in molding music and literature and architecture. Dyja’s engaging writing not only provides an insightful investigation of Chicago’s cultural heroes, but also delivers a broader view of how cities shape the sea of civilization.
Edward Glaeser, author of NYT bestseller Triumph of the City

In The Third Coast, Thomas Dyja chronicles Chicago’s estimable contributions to American culture with the colorful prose of Nelson Algren and the humanistic wisdom of Studs Terkel. He puts you at street level with the men and women whose talent and entrepreneurial chutzpah combined to give Chicago, and the nation, its postwar swagger.
Bob Marovich, host of Gospel Memories, WLUW-FM, Chicago