To understand the main point of the late Mike Royko’s book Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago, all you have to do is to look at the cover of the version of the book that I own. You can see a copy of this cover in the link below. It has Daley’s head superimposed on a heroic Roman statue. This implies that Daley ruled Chicago like a Roman emperor. This is the major claim that Royko makes in this book—that Daley controlled Chicago, which was supposed to be a democratic city, in a manner that was more appropriate to a Roman emperor.
Boss is simply a book that gives Royko’s view of the way Daley runs the city. It is an anecdotal book and not an academic study. Throughout the book, however, we can see that Royko (who was a respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for various Chicago newspapers) believes that Daley is an autocrat with a giant ego.
As one example of this, on p. 17 in my copy of the book, Royko speculates on what Daley might like as a tribute to him if he completes 20 years as mayor of Chicago. He says that Daley would “settle for something simple” like an airport named after him on a man-made island,
and maybe a statue…with a simple inscription, “The greatest mayor in the history of the world.” And they might seal off his office as a shrine.
Clearly, Royko is trying to portray Daley as someone who thinks extremely highly of himself.
Royko also wants to show that Daley was firmly in charge of the political machine that ran Chicago. On p. 98, he discusses what Daley did when he first became mayor in 1955. Royko says that Daley wanted to be sure that he, and not the aldermen, was in charge of government spending. He says
The council had always made the city’s budget. That ended. Daley would create the budget… It was the first and biggest step in changing the council from a legislative body to a rubber stamp for his administration.
This was the beginning of a process by which Daley placed himself firmly in control of the city government.
The overall project of this book, then, is to show how Mayor Daley ruled Chicago as an autocrat with a giant ego. As Royko says on p. 209,
…it was his, the Machine, the city, and nobody could stare him down.