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Book Reviews: Chicago Cable Cars, TransAtlantic, and Expressionista, How to Express Your True Self Through (And Despite) Fashio

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Chicago Cable Cars by Greg Borzo (The History Press, $24.99) Mention “cable cars” and everyone thinks of San Francisco. But Chicago had the world’s largest cable car system (in terms of passengers and equipment). In fact, Chicago’s foray into cable cars sparked a nationwide building boom that peaked in 1893 with 610 track miles in 29 cities.
This surprising yet forgotten story is told with verve and clarity in Chicago Cable Cars. The book is illustrated with nearly 100 historical and contemporary images, many of which have never before been published.
The Windy City’s colossal cable car system carried more than one billion passengers over 25 years. This book not only documents this impressive history but also brings it to life with colorful stories about robber barons who built the lines, operators who skimmed profits, politicians who collected bribes and passengers who loved the smooth, fast ride. Cable cars traveled up to 14 miles per hour—as fast as some people had ever traveled—and did so quietly, with no visible means of propulsion.
The book is full of surprises. One chapter covers the “Car Barn Bandits,” a gang of young hoodlums who foreshadowed Chicago’s gangsters of the 1920s by killing wantonly, outgunning the police with their new automatic pistols. Their “reign of terror” ended after the gang had the temerity to rob the South Side cable car company.
Borzo, who also wrote The Chicago “L,” places cable cars in the context of Chicago’s overall development and its vital role in transit history. Chicago demonstrated to the rest of the country that cable cars were the best solution to big city transit needs, at least for a short period. Although the window of opportunity for cable cars slammed shut in the late 1880s with the development of the electric trolley, Chicago clung to its vast cable car system, at least downtown, until 1906, primarily due to the not unfounded fear that overhead trolley wires would cause fires.
Borzo laments the fact that once Chicago finally ditched its cable cars it did so with a vengeance. Not a single Chicago cable car remains. A few cable car buildings are left, however, and the book describes and photographs them in an apparent effort to lobby for their preservation.
“One reason I wrote this book is because many people, even historians, said that I was mistaken when I told them that Chicago had cable cars,” Borzo says. “After I supplied the proof, some of them went on to say that I would never find enough photos to sustain a book on the subject.” Borzo not only proves the naysayers wrong but also offers an easy-to-read description of the cable car system, how the technology worked and how it was developed. Most important, he describes the times during which cable cars were Chicago’s pride and joy. —Dr. Joseph Gustaitis

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Random House, $27.00) Author Colum McCann gives us Lily Duggan, the seventeen-year-old Irish maid from Dublin whose courage sends her across the Atlantic Ocean, opening the door for successive generations. It would be hard to find a more courageous role model.
The family story plays out alongside the big, historical parade of events in the first part of the novel. In 1845 we walk with the great Frederick Douglass as he visits Ireland and witnesses the terrible poverty. Lily works in the Douglass’ home and she is inspired by him to leave that position, cross the Atlantic— “eight weeks on the water”—and make a new life.
In 1919 we encounter Alcock and Brown, the aviators who “knocked the war out of the plane,” and in 1998 we travel with George Mitchell just before the peace agreement in Northern Ireland.  The author gives us such intimate portraits of these men that you feel you know them.  Their lives overlap with the lives of Lily and her descendants.
Lily’s trials are many, including the loss of a son in the Civil War. She becomes a woman of business, sends children to college, and enjoys the constant companionship of her book-loving daughter, Emily. Emily meets and writes about Alcock and Brown’s dramatic flight while her daughter, Lottie, photographs them. Lottie finds love back in Ireland, has a daughter, Hannah, and a grandson, Tomas.  As an elderly woman, Lottie introduces herself to George Mitchell and urges him on in his peace mission in Northern Ireland. The fictitious family lives out the realities of historical events, endures the tragedy of war and finds freedom in giving up the grievances of the past.
This novel is a wonderful achievement in crossing centuries and crossing generations of real and imagined individuals, all of whom display the remarkable courage to continue on, to cross the Atlantic.—Jane Feeney

Expressionista, How to Express Your True Self Through (And Despite) Fashion
by Jackie Walker and Pamela Dittmer McKuen (Beyond Words Publishing, Inc., $9.99) Growing up is hard enough without having to stress out over clothes. The authors are on a mission to help girls ditch their fashion doubts, love what they wear, and accept who they are. They incorporate case studies, fun quizzes and tips to help girls dress for their body type, protect themselves from fashion bullies, shop on a budget, and even organize their closets.
Fashion Personas are divided in Classic, Natural, Romantic, Dramatic and Trend Tracker. There are sections on closetology, how and where to shop, and putting it all together. Stars Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift give helpful advice.
If you are looking for the ideal gift for an 8-12 year old girl, this one is fun, practical and a great tool to help her develop confidence in her own fashion persona.—M. Rodger

Published: December 07, 2013
Issue: 2013 Philanthropy Guide