About The Third Coast by Thomas Dyja

The Third Coast presents a critically acclaimed history of Chicago at mid-century, featuring many of the incredible personalities that shaped American culture.

Before air travel overtook trains, nearly every coast-to-coast journey included a stop in Chicago, and this flow of people and commodities made it the crucible for American culture and innovation. In luminous prose, Chicago native Thomas Dyja re-creates the story of the city in its postwar prime and explains its profound impact on modern America—from Chess Records to Playboy, McDonald’s to the University of Chicago. Populated with an incredible cast of characters, including Mahalia Jackson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Sun Ra, Simone de Beauvoir, Nelson Algren, Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Terkel, and Mayor Richard J. Daley, The Third Coast recalls the prominence of the Windy City in all its grandeur.

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.

Chicago Public Library's One Book, One Chicago program explores Thomas Dyja's The Third Coast, in the 2015 - 2016 season. Join us as we explore the theme of "Chicago: The City That Gives" throughout the season through a variety of programs. For details on all One Book, One Chicago offerings, visit www.onebookonechicago.org. 

We welcome your respectful and on-topic comments and questions in this limited public forum. To find out more, please see Appropriate Use When Posting Content. Community-contributed content represents the views of the user, not those of Chicago Public Library