Chicago Books Make Great Holiday Gifts

Chicago books are always at the top of our reading lists. It’s thrilling to discover new information, great stories, or illuminating anecdotes in the Chicago books we read. Reading about our fascinating city makes us better Chicago tour guides, of course, and it also provides us with tons of gift-giving recommendations at the holidays. Here are some of our recent favorite Chicago books about the city’s history, architecture, and culture.

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#1. The Battle of Lincoln Park

The Battle of Lincoln Park Daniel Kay Hertz Chicago books 2018
The Battle of Lincoln Park is an essential addition to your collection of Chicago books. Cover art courtesy of Belt Publishing.

Just published in October, this book by local writer Daniel Kay Hertz is among the most illuminating of the year. Hertz delves into the transformation of the Lincoln Park neighborhood in the generation after World War II. In that time, Lincoln Park started to transform from a fairly poor working class neighborhood into a bastion of upper middle class whites.

I’m a Lincoln Parker myself and found the book’s history astonishing. I’d long known that the Old Town neighborhood had been the first part of Chicago to gentrify, but The Battle of Lincoln Park dramatically illustrates the level of acrimony and controversy that ensued. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Hats off again to our friends at Belt Publishing.

#2. Art Deco Chicago

Art Deco Chicago: Designing Modern America is the most handsome Chicago book we’ve gotten our hands on this year. A coffee table book, edited by Robert Bruegmann, it’s a labor of love from the Chicago Art Deco Society. The society works to highlight Chicago’s “unique aesthetic of the Interwar Period including fine and decorative arts, architecture and fashion that defined the elegant Art Deco and Streamline Moderne era.”

This book has reams of gorgeous photographs cataloguing the unique style of Chicago’s Art Deco skyscrapers, like the Board of Trade and the Carbide and Carbon Building. Beyond the aesthetic pleasures, the accompanying essays made me appreciate Art Deco and Streamline’s place in Chicago architecture history. The cult of Mies often tries to paper over these styles. Hopefully this book starts the process of putting the spotlight back onto this time.

#3. Chicago Eternal

Larry Broutman‘s Chicago Monumental nabbed a spot on our list of Chicago books last year. It only seems appropriate to include his new book, Chicago Eternal, on our list of great Chicago books for 2018. Another big and sturdy coffee table book of photos, this one concentrates upon the graves, monuments and green spaces of Chicago’s historic cemeteries.

I’ve visited (and taken lots of photos in) Graceland Cemetery, final resting place of big names like Field, Pullman, Palmer, Sullivan, and van der Rohe. Yet Broutman’s fine framing and exceedingly high-quality photos still grabbed my attention. Broutman also tracks down the resting places of all sorts of Chicago-related figures like Harry Caray, Emma Goldman, and the Haymarket convicts. The book brings places of death to vivid life.

#4. The Lake on Fire

Chicago books The Lake on Fire cover art
The Lake on Fire brings Gilded Age Chicago and the 1893 World’s Fair to fascinating life. Covert art courtesy of Sarabande Books.

The Lake on Fire is a new novel that should be a big favorite of anyone whose enjoyed our 1893 World’s Fair Tour. Author Rosellen Brown, who teaches in the MFA writing program at SAIC, focuses her first novel in 18 years on two young Jewish immigrants amidst the chaos of Gilded Age Chicago. It brings the famed White City to life in a way that’ll tickle anyone who loved The Devil in the White City.

Brown clearly did a tremendous amount of research, bringing that era to life with vivid scenes set in Chicago spaces as disparate as the Maxwell Street slum and the mansions of Prairie Avenue. Intriguingly, her main characters, Chasya and Asher, have a rather jaundiced reaction to the Columbian Exposition. Seeing through the facade of the White City must’ve been completely common, but how often do you hear it 125 years later?

#5. Rising Up from Indian Country

Rising Up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago recently popped onto our reading list. Specifically, Alex’s interest was piqued while researching what Chicago was like when Illinois joined the Union. Local historian Ann Durkin Keating delves into the period when American power and presence came to be felt by the Potawatomi tribes in the Western Great Lakes.

Our sense of the past in the Midwest only goes back to the earliest European or American settlement. We ignore the untold centuries of Native American presence and history, even when it intersects with the American conquest of the region. It’s a vital part of how Chicago came to be and I’m excited to be learning more of it.

Where to Buy Your Chicago Books?

Chicago books unabridged bookstore logo
Unabridged Bookstore in Lake View is Alex’s favorite place to buy books in Chicago. Art by Landis Blair courtesy of Unabridged Bookstore.

You may have noticed that I tried not to link to Amazon in our list. Nothing against the online retail behemoth, but it’s fine if Jeff Bezos doesn’t get sales straight from us. Instead, we’re always thrilled to highlight local businesses, especially our beloved indie bookstores.

This year, I wanted to give a specific shoutout to Unabridged Bookstore, a Lake View staple since 1980. 1980! The owner, Ed Devereux, has impeccable taste and the staff covers the shelves in handwritten recommendations. I can’t even guess how many books I’ve loved after they recommended them. They go beyond the usual trade books, too. The kids, travel, and LGBT sections are phenomenal. Above all, they have the best sale section in the city. You’ll find countless titles way below MSRP and the selection is updated weekly.

Unabridged is my platonic ideal of a bookshop. Love them so much. xoxo If you’ve never stopped by, try to visit during their holiday party from 7-9pm on Saturday, December 8th. They’ll have drinks, snacks, music, a photo booth, and a general celebration of the year in books. I will see you there!

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide


In business since 2010, Chicago Detours is a passionate team of educators, historians and storytellers. We applied a decade of experience as one of Chicago’s top-rated tour companies to become a virtual event company in 2020. We bring curious people to explore, learn and interact on live virtual events of Chicago history, architecture and culture.


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

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