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Gambler King of Clark Street

Gambler King of Clark Street

Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago's Democratic Machine

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Richard C. Lindberg with a Foreword by John Miya.


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
332 pages, 6 x 9, 30 illustrations

Elmer H Johnson & Carol Holmes Johnson Series in Criminology


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About the Book

The Gambler King of Clark Street tells the story of a larger-than-life figure who fused Chicago’s criminal underworld with the city’s political and commercial spheres to create an urban machine built on graft, bribery, and intimidation. Lindberg vividly paints the life of the Democratic kingmaker against the wider backdrop of nineteenth-century Chicago crime and politics.

McDonald has long been cited in the published work of city historians, members of academia, and the press as the principal architect of a unified criminal enterprise that reached into the corridors of power in Chicago, Cook County, the state of Illinois, and ultimately the Oval Office. The Gambler King of Clark Street is both a major addition to Chicago’s historical literature and a revealing biography of a powerful and troubled man.

Illinois State Historical Society Scholarly Award, Certificate of Excellence, 2009
Society of Midland Authors Biography Award, 2009


Richard C. Lindberg is a journalist, a research historian, and the author or a coauthor of thirteen books, including Chicago Yesterday and Today,Shattered Sense of Innocence: The 1955 Murders of Three Chicago Children and Return to the Scene of the Crime: A Guide to Infamous Places in Chicago. He is a past president of the Society of Midland Authors and a 2008 recipient of the Morris Wexler Award, presented by the Illinois Academy of Criminology, for his contributions to the field of criminal justice writing.


“When local news reporters seek background about Chicago’s criminal past or this city’s never-ending marriage of convenience between corruption and politics, they often turn to Norwood Park author Richard Lindberg.”—Edison-Norwood Times Review

“Before Blago, Richie, Paddy—pick your pol—there was Michael McDonald, who laid the foundations for the modern machine on his control of gambling, vice, booze and, of course, jobs during the Gilded Age. Street names have changed, generations have passed, yet this intricately detailed history is a sort of back to the future.”—Chicago Tribune

The Gambler King of Clark Street is the story of a remarkable and controversial figure who began his career conning railway passengers and reached such a high state of political eminence that his influence was felt in City Hall, the governor’s mansion, and even the White House. Chicago history aficionados owe Richard C. Lindberg a debt of gratitude for providing a deeper understanding of how the city became what it is today.”—Rose Keefe, author of The Starker: Big Jack Zelig, the Becker-Rosenthal Case, and the Advent of the Jewish Gangster

“Until now, little was known about Michael C. McDonald and his profound impact in shaping the political-criminal landscape of Chicago. Richard Lindberg masterfully brings McDonald and his world back to life; a world populated by card sharps, bunko swindlers, back-alley characters, and rogue saloon bosses. Michael C. McDonald’s legacy is a degree of civic malfeasance unmatched anywhere else in the country.  As one frustrated alderman lamented, ‘Chicago is unique. It is the only totally corrupt city in America.’ How didChicago get this way? Lindberg provides us with the answers.”—William J. Helmer, author of Public Enemies: America’s Criminal Past, 1919–1940

“This is an immensely important historical book because it fills a critical gap in Chicago and Illinois history. Michael McDonald is mentioned in every history of the period but his life, role, and significance in the development of both crime syndicates and machine politics has never before been fully explored.”—Dick Simpson, author of Rogues, Rebels, and Rubber Stamps: The Politics of the Chicago City Council, 1863 to the Present