Monthly Archives: September 2014

Walk This Way

CBR_Logo2Pedestrianism:
When Watching People Walk
Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport
by Matthew Algeo

Having lost a bet over who would become the next U.S. president, Edward Payson Weston walked from the Boston Statehouse to the country’s capital in Washington, DC—roughly 478 miles—to see Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1860. Though, in the end, he would miss the inauguration by mere hours, Weston’s walk attracted wild attention, earning him supporters and sponsors all along his route.

pedestrianism 9781613743973Little did Weston know that his feat would launch a national obsession with walking: This was the beginning of pedestrianism, a sport that would precede baseball as America’s pastime, drawing tens of thousands of spectators to its ever-more-lavish races and events in American and British arenas.

Matthew Algeo’s latest book, Pedestrianism, published by Chicago Review Press, offers a comprehensive study of the development and celebration of this little-known sport, which experienced a surge of popularity in the 1870s and 1880s. Algeo, whose previous books include The President Is a Sick Man and Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure, closely examines the culture of competitive walking and the frenzy into which it threw spectators—both American and British—in its heyday, exploring the physical, emotional, and political effects the sport had on the communities it touched.

Algeo delves deeply into the characters and achievements of the most famous pedestrians in this unusual history. He also offers a broad historical context, illustrating the circumstances that allowed the phenomenon of competitive walking to take root in late nineteenth-century society—proving that sometimes reality really is stranger than fiction.

In these pages, readers will find stories about a variety of competitive walking races, the results of which were telegraphed across the country and printed in bold headlines in extra editions of newspapers. Algeo also describes how the sport spawned some of the country’s first celebrity athletes, people whom spectators would pay a quarter or fifty cents to watch walk around in circles for days on end, marking the beginning of modern spectator sports. And, of course, he details the many races that captured the attention of so many people, the likes of which included Mark Twain, who himself attempted to take up the sport.

algeo

Author Matthew Algeo

Though the descriptions of the famous races begin to blend into one another midway through the book (it seems you had to be there to really get the appeal of the spectacle), Algeo’s study of pedestrianism still manages to entertain. He captures the spirited atmosphere of the famous six-day races, vividly recreating the rowdy crowds and high-stakes competition. He paints the major players in such a way that they stand out from one another, more like fictional characters than textbook renderings, and he is deft in recreating the nineteenth-century world they come from.

It is exactly that deft treatment of this unusual world that allows the book to be a success. Pedestrianism was not born in a bubble and, although Algeo certainly delves deeply into the characters and achievements of the most famous competitors and their fans, it is in putting the phenomenon in context that Algeo shines. Without that bird’s-eye view, as intriguing as it is, the sport of pedestrianism might not carry enough weight to warrant an entire book. But, as an odd new lens through which to view this segment of American and British sport and history, this amusing retelling of that strange pastime works just fine. All in all, Algeo’s mastery of the time period and his approachable writing style turn an obscure pocket of sports history into an interesting weekend read.

Three-Star Review

April 2014, Chicago Review Press
History/Sports
$24.95, hardcover, 262 pages
ISBN: 978-1-61374-397-3

—Reviewed by Sarah Weber

Learn more about Pedestrianism, the book.

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A Pilgrimage Through Questions and Contradictions

CBR_Logo2Worth Fighting For:
An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military
and Across America

by Rory Fanning

America loves looking at itself: books, movies, TV mini-series, songs, poems, magazine articles, surveys, polls, and much more. At first, Worth Fighting For—the story of a former Army Ranger walking across America to raise funds for the Pat Tillman Foundation—seems to offer another look at America in all its glory and contradictions, its natural splendor and tired, rundown towns. But that is not this book.

Instead, Worth Fighting For has two major themes running through it: Fanning’s personal pilgrimage out of the military as he questions American foreign policy, and the struggles of everyday people living in America. Throughout, the author includes several historical asides that add context and perspective to wff 9781608463916.01his trek. Each chapter is marked by a town name and distance travelled. Dates for each chapter would have been nice.

Fanning shares many stories of the generous spirit that defines the American people: small donations from those least able to afford it, numerous offers of free meals and lodging, people revealing what is important about themselves and their lives. There is also the occasional suspicion or mistreatment by strangers. The author shows the difficulties of ordinary Americans dealing with life, such as Elijah Mendez, who needed special medical treatment that insurance wouldn’t cover, or Tomeka at a gas station who worked two jobs, attended night school, and raised three children by herself.

Woven throughout his hike across America is the author’s insights into the military and why he left the service. Fanning raises many questions and doubts about the United States’s overall foreign policy and the author’s role in that policy. (Generally, the author has a liberal point of view.) To his credit, Fanning decides he can no longer in good conscience comply with his role in the military. The author paints a very unflattering picture of the military that should make the brass at the Pentagon question their training methods and attitude. For example, Fanning’s treatment during his second deployment to Afghanistan (after announcing his desire to leave the military) is an indictment: he was an outcast; given menial, meaningless tasks; and forced to sleep outside in the cold and mud while the rest of the unit slept indoors. It’s a disturbing and distant reality from the glamorized military advertised during football games.

That said, the book could have been much more than it is. The author should have gone deeper, providing more detail, more background, and more research. In the end, Worth Fighting For is unsatisfying and leaves the reader frustrated and disappointed. It would have been an improvement to see more questions about the contradictions Fanning encounters every day. The reader gets glimpses—vignettes really—of America and its people, but the author fails to really explore how it affected him. The retelling of his experiences feels cursory and superficial. Worth Fighting For could have offered a more expansive look at America and its contradictions, its generous people, its hopes and fears, its gap between the ideal and the reality, but it does not do so.

Two-Star Review

November 2014, Haymarket Books
Memoir/History
$16.95, paperback, 220 pages
ISBN: 9781608463916

—Reviewed by Stephen Isaacs

Learn more about Worth Fighting For.
Read more by author Rory Fanning.

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A Guide to the Architectural Gems of ‘the Most Beautiful Great City’

CBR_Logo2AIA Guide to Chicago
Third Edition
by American Institute of Architects;
Alice Sinkevitch and Laurie McGovern Petersen, Editors

Funny, isn’t it, how transplants often know a city’s landmarks better than the locals. It’s so easy as a local of a major metropolis to push aside going to its museums, historic sites, or other attractions—the excuses are as numerous as they are flimsy: they’re too touristy, there’s not enough time, they’re too expensive, they’re too inconvenient, etc., etc.

AIA Guide Chicago 9780252079849Locals and tourists alike no longer have any good reason to miss seeing Chicago’s many architectural gems, thanks to the publication of AIA Guide to Chicago. This third edition, released just this summer, is packed with hundreds of visit-worthy architectural sites across the city, from lakeshore to West Side, from north to south.

Last updated in 2004, this new edition adds a decade’s worth of progress—beautiful, stark, or controversial—including Aqua, Millennium Park, and Trump Tower. This edition features three dozen maps, charts, and tables as well as more than 450 black-and-white photographs and illustrations. The guide also features a new preface from WTTW’s Geoffrey Baer, whose popular PBS specials hit a number of the architectural highlights in the book.

Arranged by neighborhood, the guide is divided into four main sections comprised of twenty chapters that take readers building by building and street by street through the neighborhoods of the Loop and the South Loop, the North and Northwest Sides, the West Side and suburban Oak Park, and the South and Southwest Sides. Each section gets a minihistory of the area, noting how it first developed and, in many cases, fell into decay before becoming gentrified (or not). Detailed maps serve as fodder for self-guided tours, although the guide does not advise whether readers should walk or drive through certain areas (or, for that matter, whether it is wise to even get out of your car in some neighborhoods). Some of the maps might have readers walking around in circles every now and again, but even those circuitous routes would be worthwhile since they highlight some of the city’s wonderful architectural gems.

The many gems found in these pages are both well known and little known, and it is this expansive scope that makes the AIA Guide to Chicago so enthralling. The editors and contributors have in these pages hit the major highlights—the Sears Tower (sorry: can’t call it “Willis” yet), the Hancock, the Monadnock, the Rookery—but they also have revealed countless lesser-known buildings peppered throughout the city. Readers, for instance, will find information about the William V. O’Brien House on Arlington Place, “one of the city’s most unusual for its era;” the Cardinal Meyer Center, originally “Soldiers’ Home,” on 35th Street, “a rare example of a surviving Civil War-era building in Chicago;” and the Warren McArthur and George W. Blossom houses on Kenwood, “the most important of the ‘bootlegged’ commissions done while [Frank Lloyd Wright] was working for Adler & Sullivan.”

Indeed, Wright, Adler, and Sullivan are just a few of the popular architects whose structures are featured in these pages. Readers also will find listings for buildings created by the likes of E. E. Roberts, George W. Maher, Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and Frederick Schock. More recent entries include those by Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Frank Gehry; and Mies van der Rohe. As might be expected, most of the structures and places covered in the book date to the early twentieth century during the post-Great Fire building boom, although this new edition features a number of buildings from recent years as well.

In addition to residences, office buildings, and government buildings, readers also will find information about parks and cemeteries and the structures and grounds therein. Even O’Hare Airport gets special attention, with a few pages dedicated to its terminals and outbuildings.

One could easily spend the better part of nearly every weekend for six months exploring the buildings and other sites detailed in these pages. For those who don’t wish to dedicate quite so much time exploring the city and its architectural treasures, it’s just as easy to pick one or two of the neighborhoods to explore using the detailed maps. Even those who prefer armchair adventure will find much to enjoy in this expansive guide, packed as it is with images and history.

AIA Guide to Chicago makes it difficult to come up with an excuse not to explore the city, whether in person or virtually through these pages. Architecture buffs, historians, Chicagophiles … whether tourist or local, there is something of interest to many a reader in this fact-filled guide.

Four-Star Review

June 2014, University of Illinois Press
$34.95, paperback, 550 pages
Architecture/Local History/Travel
ISBN: 978-0-252-07984-9

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen

Learn more about the book.
Learn more about AIA Chicago.

Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world.
—Frank Lloyd Wright

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