The Lakeside Classics Series: Chicago History Classics

Among my favorites is the Lakeside Classics series. Chicago publisher RR Donnelley & Sons Company's website perhaps best explains the series:

"The Lakeside Classics series was started in 1903 by Thomas E. Donnelley, then president of RR Donnelley & Sons Company and son of the founder. T.E. believed that a simple book, dignified and well designed, would be an appropriate representation of how RR Donnelley blends technology and craftsmanship to create lasting value. The Lakeside Classics are never sold by the company, and are provided to employees and clients during the holiday season."

Only one title is published each year. Fortunately, Chicago Public Library has obtained ninety of the 113 titles published to date.

Most Lakeside Classics are autobiographical narratives of American history, collections of speeches, and other obscure works. The collection "...emphasized history of the North American continent, including titles on the Civil War, the American Old West, early exploration and everyday frontier life." Chicago and Illinois histories are well represented.

For me, the charm of the series comes from the authors' first hand descriptions of how they coped with life on the frontier. Some of these were desperate struggles to stay alive such as the 1927 title Death Valley in '49.

Others volumes tell of epic explorations such as the 1931 title Alexander Mackenzie's Voyage to the Pacific Ocean in 1793. Mackenzie was a Canadian fur trader and the first person to reach the Pacific and Arctic Oceans overland from the east. I especially related to a passage where he describes frantically pulling canoes upstream using tree branches. I've done that, but had never thought it was something a real pro would do.

Women, Native Americans, every day folk and other groups not well represented in traditional histories find a voice in the series. Examples are: A Woman's Story of Pioneer Illinois (1919), Life of Black Hawk (1916) and The Englishwoman in America (2012).

And, who can resist titles such as Six Years With the Texas Rangers, 1875 to 1881 (1943), A Frontier Doctor (1979), Narrative of My Captivity Among the Sioux Indians (1990) or Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years A Slave and Four Years in the White House (1998).

Last, but not least, the books are handsomely designed pocket size hardbacks. Many are obtainable for a reasonable price on the used book market. Some of the early volumes are rare and very expensive.