Chicago, in all its beauty, has grit. It is Carl Sandburg’s “City of Big Shoulders;” it is Phillip B. Williams’ “city of African music festivals and Bud Billiken parades;” it is Frank Marshall Davis’ “overgrown woman wearing her skyscrapers like a necklace” who sings “a melody of everything and nothing.” Most importantly, it is a city that perseveres.
Today, Encyclopædia Britannica celebrates its 250th year of publication. It is yet another icon of perseverance finding its home in Chicago, and Theodore Pappas, executive editor and chief development officer, is no stranger to stories of such tenacity. In fact, as a daily Metra commuter, Pappas researched and wrote his latest book, True Grit: Classic Tales of Perseverance, while riding the train, proof that any moment is a chance to make something of yourself.
“We can view train travel as a dead spot or a precious gift,” said Pappas in a phone interview. “Metra gave me the opportunity to write a book.”
True Grit: Classic Tales of Perseverance explores the common thread between a variety of great men and women who changed the world around them. Despite personal setbacks, frequent failures and professional shortcomings, all of the subjects within Pappas’ book—including Marie Curie, Ian Fleming and Joe Louis—pushed through such obstacles to eventually find their place in history.
“I was always fascinated with them,” Pappas said of his subjects. “They did not let failures distract them from accomplishing their goals.”
Pappas has continued that tradition of finding the benefits within, rather than impediments to, his time. From 2016 through 2017, his commute from Big Timber on the Milwaukee District West Line offered him a long train ride to focus on the research and writing of his book, which was published this year.
“That’s four hours each day,” Pappas said. “You can get a lot done in that time.”
Pappas started researching his subjects in 2016, wrote the book in 2017, and published it in 2018.
Now that True Grit: Classic Tales of Perseverance has been published, Pappas is starting work on his next book. The subject matter? Train travel. Pappas’ recommendation for fellow commuters: “Pick a comfortable car on your train, one that fits your needs, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.”
As we join in the celebration of Encyclopædia Britannica’s 250th anniversary, we also give a tip of the hat to all of the riders and employees of Metra who find that same tenacious Chicago spirit within themselves. They are the ones who provide that perfect mix of glimmer and grit that make this city great.