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Decades of patronage had left the impression, too often merited, that public administration in Illinois was in the hands of the lazy or the incompetent. Usually at about the second cup of coffee at the diner or the second beer at the bar, a Springfieldian abroad will hear how the capital city’s adult population consists mostly of layabouts and spongers living large at the expense of honest hardworking taxpayers in the rest of the state.

I spent too much time working with or writing about career state employees to entertain such notions. A dozen obstacles keep good employees from doing a good job. Attempts to modernize state government administration began in earnest with the beginning of the 20th century and were championed to some effect by governors such as Frank Lowden and Richard Ogilvie. The usual remedies were merit hiring, agency reorganizations, performance pay, and the adoption—usually fitful and slow—of new office technologies.


Alas, such fads faded and governors retired and career public servant as often as not were left to bear the burden of reformers’ hopes alone. Rather than improve the bureaucracy, recent governors such as Quinn and Blagojevich and (especially) Rauner went a long way toward destroying it through inattention. under-funding, or anti-government ideological zeal.


Still, the work gets done.

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Institutional Amnesia

How the state forgets what doesn’t work

Illinois Issues  November 2006

Easy on Paper

Another Illinois governor, another reorganization plan

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  April 9, 1992

Tolerating Turmoil

Useful tips for the senior bureaucrat

"Prejudices" Illinois Times  February 5, 1991

Managing to Get By

Public servants, treated like the help

Illinois Issues  November 2010


Private-sector pay in the public sector

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  January 16, 1986

The Best and the Brightest

Making the progressive dream of efficient public management come true

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  January 30, 1992


Does better pay buy better public servants?

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  January 26, 1989

Bunker Metropolis

Private government can deliver good service—for a price

Chicago Enterprise  September/October 1993

Rearranging the Pieces/Getting in Gear

A new guv's first job? Reinvent the wheel

Illinois Issues  January-February 1999

Paper Shufflers 

“Takes one to know one” says the Illinois bureaucrat

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 24, 1992 

More Floppies in a Shoebox

How should the state deal with dead documents?

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times  June 15, 2017

The (Energetic) Ambition of Frank Beal

The thinking bureaucrat's sort of bureaucrat

Illinois Issues April 1980

Diagnosing the Cost Disease

Why government costs can’t go down

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times November. 15, 2012

A Matter of Degree

Politics isn't the only bar to merit hiring

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  January 31, 2013

The Arts of the Patron

What Mary Lee Leahy didn't change about Illinois politics

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  January 3, 2013


In which invective is betrayed by ignorance

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  May 18, 1979


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John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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