Whet Moser heard of me before I ever heard of him. Researching a story on the taxi business for the Chicago Reader he stumbled onto my Hack blog. This was about ten years ago. Long before I wrote a book or even thought of writing one. Whet’s attention to my early writing efforts made me take them more seriously. It also made me make sure to read what else he was writing about.
His great gift is to assemble vast reams of facts and figures into concise, readable prose. A typical Moser piece might feature a pie chart or statistic—elements which usually make my eyes glaze over—but he manages to make sense of this data and to incorporate it into whatever story he’s trying to tell. Over the years many of his articles have concerned Chicago, so I was excited to learn he would be publishing a book about the city.
I get lots of press releases about forthcoming books so I figured the email from Reaktion Books was one of those. Instead it was a request to write a blurb. I answered immediately that I’d be honored to do it and received a link to a pdf a few minutes later. Moser’s book isn’t long—a couple hundred pages with lots of illustrations—but I’m a slow reader. I tore through it by the following afternoon.
Moser traces the city from its beginnings to the present day through politics, food, infrastructure, architecture, art, and music. It’s a portrait which is wide-ranging yet idiosyncratic, as any one person’s portrait of a place must be. It’s a great gift to be presented with a take of the place you love. This is why anything about Chicago gets my immediate attention. It’s that better when it’s a thing like Whet’s new book, which handles its subject with wit and intelligence.
Getting to read this book made my week. Having a chance to help promote it a bit was icing on the cake. Anyone who cares about this contradictory but resplendent place will want a copy of their own. I look forward to my very own cloth, paper, and ink version when it comes out in October.