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Which books tell the secrets of Chicago political campaigns?

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From time to time, people can be heard to complain that Chicago-style politics have taken over the nation's capital. That has raised a question in some quarters: To which books would you turn for an accurate, behind-scenes look at how a Chicago or Illinois political campaign really works?

Three longtime standards have been Mike Royko's Boss, Milton L. Rakove's Don't Make No Waves, Don't Back No Losers and Rakove's oral history We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent. But those titles date back to the 1970s. Even older is is a book one person mentioned, Captive City: Chicago in Chains by Ovid Demaris.

Most of what's been written since then was characterized by another person I took this matter up with as "either boring academic studies or empty, self-serving memoirs. Jane Byrne wrote My Chicago and managed to say almost nothing interesting."

James L. Merriner's Grafters and Goo Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago is an exception, though it's more about politicians and reform efforts than political campaigns. Others I talked to liked The Illinois Governors: Mostly Good and Competent by Robert P. Howard (updated by Taylor Pensoneau and Peggy Boyer Long) and The Mayors by Paul M. Green and Melvin G. Holli, who also wrote The Making of the Mayor of Chicago, 1983.

Claude Walker, who has run Pat Quinn's operations from time to time, wrote a novel, Currents of Power (but "hard to keep track of the huge cast of characters," one reader said). Much of David Mendell's Obama: From Promise to Power is based on Mendell's reporting on early days of the Obama campaign.

Why isn't there more literature in this area? Here's a theory one person offered:

"There is nothing recent out there covering the modern-day antics, probably because exposing the truth about a particular candidate's election tactics and fund-raising could invite lawsuits."

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"Captive City" was a powerful and compelling idnictment of the whole process when it was first published in 1969, but it resulted in a number of lawsuits against the author Ovid Demaris, who had the courage of his convictions to name names and make unsettling accusations few authors have been willing to make ever since. "Captive City" best covers the political scene from 1930-1969. Royko's "Boss" was great, but more tongue-in-cheek than hard journalism as I look back at it today. I would also submit my latest book "The Gambler King of Clark Street: Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago's Democratic Machine," the first-ever biography of the wily 19th Century gambler/political boss who blended together the liquor and gambling interests and the criminal rackets he protected with electoral politics, thus creating the foundation of the modern "Machine" and an "exchange of influence" that would come to dominate Chicago's political landscaps for the next 100 years.

I wrote a novel that first came out in the year 2000 entitled America's First. It is about a African-American senator from the State of Illinois who was groomed and positioned by a powerful Chicago mob family (that most of the country never heard of) to become the first black president. The fictious president in my book was very articulate, married to a lawyer he met in law school and both of his parents had passed away when he was younger. It still amazes me to this day that not one main stream press outlet has ever interviewed me about this book. I have done countless book signings and have spoke at many underground book parties at private homes. The one thing many people say in common about my book is that my book has a lot in common with the rise of Barack Obama. I tell people this is not true. I knew very little about President Obama when I first started out back in 1996 writing my book and it is out of pure coincidence that my book has a lot of similarities in it that have since come to happen in real life (i.e. I wrote in the book about our government's role in the assasination of Sadaam Husseins' two sons). There are many more similarities in my book, for example, the fictious president in my book inherits a very dismal economy at a time when crime is very high in the country. Sound familiar? Well my book came out in the year 2000 before anyone in mainstream America had ever about Barack Obama, and it is a great read of fiction, in my opinion and many others, that should get more atention and possibly be made into a movie. You be the judge for yourself and order a copy online at; and after you finished reading my book, you will truly understand why the mainstream media wants my book kept America's best kept secret. Hint: my book discusses in a very fictious manner why our country will not legalize drugs and who is responsible for keeping a bill from passing in the White House from this type of legislation to ever get debated in the House or Senate. Read my book and then you become the judge. But remember, my book is just fiction and far from the truth. It's just a great read.

What about "Devil in the White City" about Chicago in the 1800s?

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Frisbie published on March 24, 2010 3:59 PM.

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