There are so many books written each year by talented writers – be they journalists, novelists, professors, etc. – but how do you go about choosing the right one for you? I decided to focus on as many local authors as I could. Chicago is filled with talented writers who pen great books. You’ll notice in our Top 10 Books of the Year a range of topics – from our constitutional rights concerning sex to the state of our Great Lakes and a wonderful crime thriller that takes place in Chicago. Ranking them in order is very tough, because each one was uniquely wonderful in its own way.
I Can’t Breath by Matt Taibbi – While I said the focus is on local authors, this book is written by a New Yorker who writes for Rolling Stone. His book is a must read for our city because it puts the pieces of the puzzle of police brutality together with a wonderful analysis of how it all works. It combines phenomenal reporting with insightful and exquisite writing. This was the last book we reviewed for 2017, but it’s No. 1 on our list.
Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton – Again, this is not a local author. Steve Hamilton hails from the north in Michigan. But his book takes place in Chicago and is another mystery thriller filled with violence on our city streets. This book is the second in his Nick Mason novel series. His writing flows like a fast-running river. You do not want to put this book down once you pick it up. It’s like watching the Showtime series Shameless, a gritty and entertaining tale taking place on the very streets we walk up and down every day.
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan – This is the book to read and understand all about our precious Lake Michigan, a crystal clear blue ocean that wraps along our pristine shoreline. Milwaukee Sentinel reporter Dan Egan writes a story about our lake and what makes it precious, what changes it has experienced and the challenges it faces today. This is the perfect book to answer all those questions and more about a mystical aquatic wonder right under our noses.
Kill Chain: The Rise of High-Tech Assassins by Andrew Cockburn – This book is not local but it’s a must read to learn about our military which currently dominates the world. Andrew Cockburn is one of the top journalists covering the military and wars around the world. He notes that people know little about our military empire, which has spent over $200 million every day since 9/11 fighting terrorism. Another phenomenal reporting job here that takes a close look at the players who kill and are killed by drones as well as those who profit off it. His contacts within the military establishment paint an inside picture of our military that you cannot find elsewhere. What is our military strategy today? Does it make any sense? Read this book!
Black Public Art and Religion in Chicago by Kymberly Pinder – This is a local author who’s written a fantastic book about our city’s African-American religious art. Pinder, who once taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is now the dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico, takes her readers on an eye-opening odyssey to the murals, stained glass and sculptures dotting the city’s African-American churches and neighborhoods. Her book chronicles the social and spiritual impact of African American religious art in this city.
Chicago’s Fabulous Fountains by Greg Borzo – Here is perhaps our first pure local book, written by Chicago journalist and author Borzo about our city’s amazing water fountains. Our city is home to many diverse, artistic, fascinating and historically important water fountains. The book highlights over one hundred outdoor public fountains along with amusing stories behind them. I particularly enjoyed riding my bike with my son last summer checking many of them out. I recommend you do it too!
Sex and the Constitution by Geoffrey Stone – Chicago is filled with very important people who play a big role in our nation. Stone is a law professor at the University of Chicago on the South Side who hired former President Barack Obama and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kogan. He has written a detailed history of our Constitution and how it’s been shaped by our battle against sex, from the Puritans and early Evangelical preachers to the government’s war on homosexuals and gay marriage.
A People’s History of Chicago by Kevin Coval – Poetry is who we are. It is sweet music that fills the air around us and makes us smile, cry or wonder. And what better way to read about the true history of our city than in a book filled with poetry that tells the stories of our real heroes, with all the anger and emotions one must feel to truly understand. Author Kevin Coval is a poet and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and he is currently on a tour around the city to read his poetry. His poetry is punchy, rhythmic and historical.
Trump Unveiled: Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire by John Wilson – I have to thank John who organizes the Chicago Book Expo each fall for introducing me to the wonderful world of Chicago writers. He sent me a list of our great Windy City authors and I’ve been hooked ever since. His latest book about President Trump is a good one. Wilson focuses on the endless lies and absurdities Trump makes throughout his career. As you read the 270-page scribe that details everything from his misogynist, political incorrectness, racist, mean-spirited, conspiratorialist ways, you shake your head in wonder that this guy is now the commander-in-chief who we all hail to.
Who Rules the World by Noam Chomsky – Any book by our esteemed philosophical statesman and intellectual radical literary leader Chomsky is a must. This new book focuses on the American empire and how it rules the world today in comparison to years past. Chomsky – considered the father of modern linguistics – is arguably our greatest living intellectual, yet he is practically censored by the mainstream media for his views which some consider too radical and critical of the US system. So you got to read his books. Like Taibbi’s book on police brutality, this one tells us what we need to know about our empire and where it’s headed.
By Jim Vail