Cover for MILLER: The Great Chicago Fire

The Great Chicago Fire

Illuminates the birth of modernism in American and the development of a radically new architecture--tested in fire, the modern city emerged

On October 8, 1871, four decades after its founding, Chicago's destiny was rewritten "with a pen of fire." In this imaginative and penetrating study, Ross Miller considers the mythic proportions of the Great Chicago Fire as the city reshaped its own tragedy into an archetype of the modern struggle against adversity.

Amid myriad eyewitness and photographic accounts of the fire, a consideration of what had actually happened was quickly subordinated to a developing narrative that attempted to resolve the city's conflicted identity into a unity. Disaster was recast as opportunity, and a period that began with catastrophic destruction ended in the triumph of the World's Columbian Exposition. Within a generation of the fire, Chicago became home to a radical new architecture, a daring new realistic fiction, literary journalism, and the new scientific study of society.

"A solid mix of scholarship and speculation. Miller has revealed to me a lot I didn't know about the struggle between civic fantasy and architectural ambition that led to the reinvention of Chicago. It's an exemplary modern tale, this careful study of catastrophe and its exploitation."--Philip Roth

"Ross Miller has written a vivid and important piece of Americana, a fine contribution to our social history. I read with pleasure and profit."--Irving Howe

"[Miller's] analysis of the meaning of the Great Fire, and of the crucial decades of rebuilding, is the kind of social/cultural history that can revive your faith in the future of criticism in America."--Frank McConnell


Ross Miller is a professor in the Department of English and the Program in Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and in scholarly journals.

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