Reviews, Endorsements, and Media Appearances
"An . . . essential book . . . for anyone who wants to truly understand Chicago."
--Selected for "A Chicago Birthday Book Bag" by a panel of experts on WBEZ-FM, Eight Forty-Eight, March 4, 2004
". . . an impressively thorough, unexpectedly engaging account of the lazy stream that is Chicago's raison d'etre."
--Deanna Isaacs, Chicago Reader, "In Print: diving deep into the Chicago River," August 25, 2000
". . . In her research for this book, Hill poured over mountains of historic and technical documents leading her to a set of original hypotheses that she subjected to both a peer and an expert review. This book is technical, but highly readable and received awards from both the Midwest Independent Publishers Association and Midwest American Regional History Publishing . . ."
--Conscious Choice, "Book News," January, 2003
"Libby Hill writes with feeling born of careful research and her own close friendship with the Chicago River. Anyone whose life has been touched by any part of this waterway will find her account enjoyable, enlightening, and life enriching."
--William Howenstine, professor, Geography and Environmental Studies, Northeastern Illinois University
"There is a new book on the Chicago River that you must have. For six years Libby Hill researched and then wrote a fascinating book--The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History. From geology to the human dramas and epic engineering that brought us today's river system, it is all here. Hill is a river enthusiast and a meticulous detective. The book has an abundance of maps and intriguing photographs, and when documents were contradictory or nonexistent, Hill and her husband went into the field to track down evidence. . . ."
--The River Reporter, Friends of the Chicago River newsletter, "New River Book," Summer, 2001
"Well researched and rich in detail, this can be an eye-opening read for local residents as well as river lovers everywhere."
--A.T. Tattata, The Bloomsbury Review, July/August 2001
". . . A fascinating book . . . a remarkable document . . . a great enjoyment . . . not as ballyhooed as the new Harry Potter, but it should be . . . There's a million things in this book that surprised me . . . the research involved in this book was pleasantly stunning . . . the bibliography astonishing . . . . Start ordering it now."
--Rick Kogan, WGN Radio, The Sunday Papers, July 2, 2000
"It is beautifully written and contains a wealth of information which is new to us. It's a valuable addition to our collection."
--Beverly Dawson, Glenview Historical Society
" . . . a great guide to the geologic origins of modern Chicago. . . . a fine guide to the making of Chicago."
--Dolores and Roger Flaherty, Chicago Sun-Times, "Book Week," Sunday, August 20, 2000
"Libby Hill's The Chicago River is the result of years of painstaking research and presents an outstanding historical survey of the Chicago River from its creation by pre-glacial forces, to the days of the French explorers using it to access the Mississippi, to its contemporary presence in one of the most densely populated urban areas in the Midwest. The Chicago River is an in-depth, comprehensive work that reveals the never ending struggle between humans and nature over the centuries, as well as the commercial, recreational, and ecological projects currently underway on and in the river. The Chicago River is highly recommended, rewarding reader for those with an interest in Chicago, natural history, environmental issues, and Midwestern history."
--Midwest Book Review, August, 2000
"Imagine reading a biography of your spouse or best friend, and being surprised and delighted at the biographer's fresh take on somebody you thought you knew pretty well. Libby Hill has done that with this book, reintroducing me to a body of water I thought I knew, surprising me with new facts, and delighting me with new ways of thinking about the facts I thought I had mastered."
--David Jones, Community Planner, Friends of the Chicago River
"Libby Hill's book is a valuable resource for students and history buffs. It is a 'must read' for anyone who wants to know how or why the course of the Chicago River was reversed. I highly recommend it."
--Peggy Bradley, Public Information Coordinator, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of
"It may not be much of a river, as rivers go, but what a history! From prehistoric glaciers to contemporary Deep Tunnel, Libby tells the whole fascinating story of the Chicago River with great enthusiasm, eloquence, and factual accuracy. Anyone who reads this book will never again take our hometown stream for granted. It's a must read for all Chicago buffs."
--Bill Hinchliff, veteran docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation
"Hill tells this complex story in human terms, such as the 'kidnapping' of dredging equipment from Wisconsin and secretly opening the Sanitary and Ship Canal in order to forestall a lawsuit from Joliet. . . . [She] makes the story even more graphic by frequently pointing out specific locations to show the effects of glaciers, floods, droughts, and erosion in shaping an area where more than six million people live. If you are among them, after reading a few chapters, you may begin to feel that the land around you is very special indeed."
--Wayne Klatt, Journal of Illinois History, "Book Reviews," Summer, 2001
"The Chicago River is a good read. But it is also an important book for it is the first to present, as Hill says in her subtitle, both the river's 'natural' and its 'unnatural history.' The book illumines the river's ancient history as well as its key role in the birth and growth of Chicago."
--Nancy Freehafer, Chicago Wilderness, Winter, 2001
". . . [A] thorough account of the natural and unnatural (affected by humans) history of the Chicago River. Although the title is apt, it understates the breadth of fascinating material in the book. The 'natural history' covers every facet of the river and its environs and provides a good primer about nature in general and the effect that people can have on it. Through the 'unnatural history' we learn about the growth of Chicago and its suburbs as well as the Midwest and the United States, with the unifying theme of the river holding everything together. . . . I wish this book existed when I lived in Chicago. I would have had a much greater appreciation of what was around me."
--Amazon.com reader review, "The Chicago River and more," 5 of 5 stars, January 14, 2002
"Chicago, Wisconsin?!?!? This is one of the strange and interesting facts found in this book. The author spent six years meticulously researching and writing this book about 'the historic creek that Chicago built.' The book does many things for Chicago's history: it gives a great perspective of the political realities of managing one of the main forms of transportation in the city's early growth; it describes the economics of developing the land along the river (and its many courses); and it shows the part the river played in the lives of everyone along its banks. The drawings and maps in the book are carefully chosen to give the reader an accurate visual picture of the times. My favorite is the one on pg. 96 where men are lifting an entire hotel to accommodate the installation of sewers in the city. I also loved the story about the 'kidnapped dredge'! The last third of the book is very pertinent to the people in the area who truly love the outdoors. It describes the development of the Skokie Lagoons and the Chicago Botanic Garden where many of us bird and the start of the natural areas restoration for which Chicago has become so well known along the banks of the North Branch. For folks who grew up in or near the city, the neighborhood references are sure to bring back fond memories but, even for those of us who did not grow up in this area, there is much to learn. This book would be a great addition to a reference library or a wonderful gift for someone interested in Chicago and its varied history. Looking for the answer to the question that began this review? Well, you'll have to read the book to see how a stroke of luck--or a pen!--made us the 'City of Big Shoulders' rather than the 'City of the Northwoods'!"
--Amazon.com reader review, "Chicago, Wisconsin?!?!?," 5 of 5 stars, September 17, 2000
Libby Hill: Debunker of Urban Legend of Chicago's 1885 Cholera Epidemic
"Countless histories of Chicago mention devastating 1885 epidemics triggered by a flood that washed unspeakable filth into the city's water supply. According to numerous sources available from the last fifty years, as many as ninety thousand Chicagoans--12 percent of the city's population--succumbed to the life-draining waterborne diseases of cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. It is a shocking tale of a vibrant metropolis laid low by ungovernable nature and disease. And it never happened. . . . [I]t is the historian's duty to set records straight. The truth matters and can be just as intriguing as fiction."
--Libby Hill, Journal of Illinois History, "The Chicago Epidemic of 1885: An Urban Legend?,"
". . . For the facts we turn to The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History by Libby Hill (2000). Hill informs us that sanitary facilities in Chicago were wholly inadequate in 1885: sewers emptied into the Chicago River; after heavy rains, runoff caused sewage to flow far out into the lake, the city's source of fresh water. A torrential storm on August 2 of that year dropped five and a half inches of rain on the city in 19 hours, which under other circumstances might have meant disaster. To the relief of all, however, nothing happened, possibly because winds were out of the northeast, which may have kept effluent from reaching the water intake two miles offshore. No cholera deaths were reported (the disease was unknown in Chicago after the 1860s), and the typhoid rate for the year was only slightly above average. Typhoid deaths during the 1880s never exceeded 1,000, peaking in 1891 at 1,700. (Alarmed by the 1885 close call, the city undertook the massive canal project that permanently reversed the flow of the river and ended the typhoid threat.) You can't blame the Tribune for repeating a local legend--Hill tells me she's still trying to figure out where the story originated. What's surprising is that even though her impressively researched book was cited in the letter to the editor you saw and is available from the public library, the Trib refused to face the facts. . . ."
--Cecil Adams, Chicago Reader, "The Straight Dope," November 12, 2004
"Historian Libby Hill established in her 2000 book The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History that the story was fiction--while there was a big rainstorm in 1885, favorable winds kept sewage out of the tap water--but didn't know where it originated. Now she does."
--Cecil Adams, Chicago Reader, "The Straight Dope," April 27, 2007
"The expert seems to agree. Libby Hill told me that she researched the cholera epidemic by studying copies of the Tribune and Daily News from August 1885. She read every newspaper from August 1 to August 19, expecting to find stories of coffins rolling through the streets. 'It just wasn't there,' she said."
--Ted Kleine, Chicago Reader, Letters, "A Mistake of Epidemic Proportions," June 14, 2002
"In a Sept. 6 Tempo section story on the Chicago River, mention was made of a cholera epidemic in 1885. Similar mentions were made in a Tribune Magazine article on March 25, 2004, and in a Metro section story in 1997. An 1885 epidemic also is cited on a Friends of the River Web site and on a UIC site. All seem to be the result of what Libby Hill, author of The Chicago River, calls an 'urban legend.' Tribune archives and public health records do not note such an occurrence, and the number of purported deaths--80,000 to 90,000--would have been far too many not to have been noted. Hill is now researching the origin of this epidemic that wasn't."
--Chicago Tribune, "Corrections and Clarifications," September 29, 2005
"The Aug. 13 news story "In Chicago, a 'Living River' Brings a Lively Debate" repeats the urban legend that an estimated 80,000 Chicagoans died in a typhoid epidemic in the 1880s.
The typical version of the story has epidemics of cholera, typhoid and other waterborne diseases killing 12 percent of the population.
My research shows that the epidemics, usually attributed to a severe flood on Aug. 2, 1885, never occurred. The highest number of deaths from typhoid in any year in the 1880s was fewer than 1,000, in 1881.
In 1891, the all-time peak year, 1,700 people died of that disease."
--Libby Hill, letter to the editor, Washington Post
Libby Hill: Chicago River Expert in Print
". . . the demolition of the Sun-Times Building and its replacement with a significant structure is a culminating event in the history of the riverscape."
--Libby Hill quoted in Gary Wisby's "Sun-Times move means end of era for river,"
Chicago Sun-Times, January 23, 2005
". . . Northbrook is a superb example of a community that is highlighting the importance of the northern reaches of the Chicago River. Many people, not only visitors to Chicago, think of the Chicago River as that portion flowing through the downtown Chicago canyon of architectural gems. That reach of the river system, however, is only a small, though dramatic, part of the story. It flows approximately 1.5 miles.
"The North Branch with its three forks flows approximately 79 miles. In Lake County, where its upper waters gather around Park City, the river flows through Waukegan, North Chicago, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Green Oaks, a small corner of Mettawa, Riverwoods, Lincolnshire, Bannockburn, Deerfield and Highland Park. In Cook County, it flows through Glencoe, Northfield, Northbrook, Winnetka, Golf, Morton Grove and Niles. Wilmette, Skokie, Evanston and Lincolnwood lie along the North Shore Channel. After the North Branch reaches Chicago's northern boundary at Devon, it flows through 37 Chicago neighborhoods.
". . . If more citizens, especially students, in many of these communities were familiar with and connected to the river, more communities might emulate Northbrook in appreciating the waterway as an amenity for themselves and for communities upstream and downstream. Familiarity with the river could lead citizens all along the watershed to support the river's rehabilitation."
--Libby Hill, letter to the editor, Chicago Tribune, Voice of the People, December 3, 2001
Also in Print
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