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Chicago: City on the Make

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  606 ratings  ·  76 reviews
"You can belong to New Orleans. You can belong to Boston or San Francisco. You might conceivably--however clandestinely--belong to Philadelphia. But you can't belong to Chicago any more than you can belong to the flying saucer called Los Angeles. For it isn't so much a city as it is a drafty hustler's junction in which to hustle awhile and move on out of the draft."

This lo
Paperback, 106 pages
Published January 1st 1983 by McGraw-Hill Companies (first published 1951)
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Brian Gatz
This is one of the best things I've ever happened upon--Algren's name is legendary, but I've mostly overlooked him. Too much of this book is too much good to comment on. I don't really know where to begin. As a knee-jerk lefty, there's a lot of Algren that's easy to agree with: the brokers and hustlers reward themselves of other's efforts; there's blood on the streets; you'll live your whole life in the shadows of towers; no one will remember your efforts unless you've stolen them of someone els ...more
Mar 21, 2008 Dina rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Chicagoans
I'm not sure how to rate this one. I believe I am going to have to read it again. And then read it again. This is my first time reading Algren, which I think is a crime when I have lived in Chicago my whole life. Any life-long Chicagoan must read Algren. Otherwise are you really a Chicagoan? I read the preface, the essay, the afterword and even the editor's biographies in Chicago: City on the Make, but I do believe I will need to read it again. Why? Well, frankly, I had difficulty penetrating Al ...more
William Strasse
Sadly, reading this book only reinforced to me that, for better or worse, the old Chicago is a thing of the past...much like Vegas, it is an image to be sold to tourists but the reality is a sanitized version of something that hasn't existed for a long time. I guess that is the world we live in, in general...everything sanitized for our protection to the point where there is very little that is real anymore. What Chicago has gained in user-friendliness, it has lost in personality. Yes, if you kn ...more
Peter Tavolacci
After completing Never Come Morning and Chicago: City on the Make, I may have to declare Nelson Algren as one of my top five favorite authors.

Sixty years after being penned, Chicago: City on the Make retains all of its poignancy; it remains an honest portrayal of the history of Chicago; it makes real the lives of the easily forgotten. This gritty piece of prose poetry, I think, is easily related to by any who have loved, hated, or hated to love Chicago.
In about eighty pages, Algren poetically
An epic prose poem about Chicago that celebrates all that is good and bad in our city. A slim book that makes the most out of every single word written. With a wonderful introduction by Studs Terkel and a brilliant afterword by Algren himself, I found that once I got started I had a hard time putting it down.

I loved Algren's use of colorful language and felt that he made many statements that still hold true today. Such as: "The hard necessity of bringing the judge on the bench down into the dock
'It isn't hard to love a town for its greater and its lesser towers, its pleasant parks or its flashing ballet. Or for its broad and bending boulevards, where the continuous headlights follow, one dark driver after the next, one swift car after another, all night, all night and all night. But you never truly love it till you can love its alleys too. Where the bright and morning faces of old familiar friends now wear the anxious midnight eyes of strangers a long way from home.'

One of my favorite
It's short book made of one long poem that celebrates Chicago as it was half a century ago. A lot has changed in Chicago since this was written, but a lot has also stayed the same. Algren manages to paint an ugly picture of Chicago filled with hustlers, cheaters, and swindlers overtaking decent people that a reader can strangely love and embrace as the jagged history of Chicago. Algren also vividly describes Chicago as a city of two faces. One generous and warm with the other as merciless and gr ...more
Spectacular. Pure poetry, and truly a love story to his city -- which, Algren claims, must be loved the way you love 'a woman with a broken nose.' I read it in one sitting, and I want to read it again. Get THIS edition, though, and read Studs Terkel's intro. The footnoting is vital but not cumbersome. All in all, it made me want to simultaneously cry helplessly AND get another Chicago-themed tattoo. And I'm pretty sure that's precisely how Algren wants us to feel.
I'm from Sydney. I spent a few days in Chicago once and think about the place often. It was unlike any other city I'd been to, landlocked yet on a shoreline, soulful yet missing something, giant art deco Metropolis-esque skyscrapers everywhere but with strangely deserted streets between them. None of the locals would give me a straight answer to the question: "Where is everybody?" I spent a few days cycling around Lake Michigan with a Swiss guy I met, and at one point, as we stopped to watch an ...more
read this brilliant piece out loud. to your cat if necessary. (not recommended on public transportation.)

(doesn't necessarily withstand a second reading. oh well, we'll let the rating stand.)
John Defrog
Algren’s infamous warts-and-all lyrical love letter to Chicago, in which he basically sums up the city’s crooked history as “a rigged ballgame” – an ongoing struggle between the hustlers and the squares, swindlers and victims, moral hypocrites and desperate low-lifes, capitalist barons and working-class slobs, where corruption is rewarded and sympathy for the losers generally absent. And yet for all that, Algren loves Chicago, but says you can’t really love it unless you embrace it for what it i ...more
Algren's book of little essays about Chicago reads like poetry at times, fierce and beautiful. He loves Chicago, its hustler heart, and despises what it can be and what it eventually became. Algren also offers a full broadside against the haves who press down upon the poor and his words remain prophetic today. I need to find an annotated version - even knowing a good deal of Chicago history, too many of his references went past me and that took something away from the book. But when he starts hi ...more
"An October sort of city even in spring." This is completely Chicago. "The city divided by the river is further divided by racial and lingual differences." "It just acts with the nervous violence of the two-timing bridegroom whose guilt is far more than he can bear: the bird who tries to throw his bride off the scent by accusing her of infidelity loudly enough for the neighbors to hear."
Algren is appealing in a way I haven't encountered before. I love him. He is both intense and unrelenting. An
"'Watch out for yourself' is still the word. 'What can I do for you?' still means 'What can you do for me?' around these parts–and that's supposed t omake this the most American of cities too. It's always been an artist's town and it's always been a torpedo's town, the most artistic characters in the strong-arm industry as well as the world's most muscular poets get that way just by growing up in Chicago–and that's an American sort of arrangement too they tell us.

"A town where the artist of clas
Neal Groothuis
Algren poetically describes how he sees Chicago; as a city that was and is a home for "hustlers" looking to make an easy buck. As the book progresses, he elaborates on what he perceives as the loss of edginess and honesty in the city's writers, as well as condemning a number of the other social maladies of the time (the HUAC being foremost among them).

It feels a bit unfocused at times, with his attention shifting from one thing to the next.

One other great, if challenging, bit about the book is
Great book - but did Algren like Chicago at all? In his estimation, everyone is either a hustler, a square, or homeless. There are powerful poetic passages in this book, but I find I don't agree with much of what he says. Chicagoans hate to visit their museums because they were paid for by rich capitalists? What a cynic.
John Matthews
My intolerance for prose poems is only matched by my intolerance of streetwise lingo over a half a century old. Despite these personal obstacles, Algren gains my respect and nails Chicago in ’51 when he depicted the city as a crooked, tough but beautiful town: “Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never one so real.” Beware of the introductions and afterward in the 60th anniversary edition—they’re almost as long as the book itself. I usually take that ...more
Rings true just as much today as it did back when it first came out in 1951. Like Mike Royko's "Boss", this is required reading not just for anyone who is a Chicagoan, but for anyone who wishes to understand what Chicago is.
I would rate this higher, but I am not smart enough nor knowledgeable enough to understand or recognize all of the dated references going on here.
Josh Mings
There are no lovelier lovelies... Algren's poem dedicated to the real life of the city is a great read.
Poetic and atmospheric, although easily confusing for anyone who isn't well acquainted with Chicago history.
Matt Kovalcik
"Yet once you've come to be part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real."

These lines, found early in Algren's essay on Chicago, resonate through the whole of the work; Chicago may be a city of hustlers and gin-soaked nobodies, as it always has been, but the dreams of these and all the other downtrodden, often dashed, are what give this town its heart. There's poetic beauty in thi
Frank Tempone
Need to read this book at least twice. It's a 120 page poem.
A bittersweet, sardonically funny and well-versed love letter to the city. I was *slightly* versed in him before, but this is a good point of entry, it seems. Lovely wordplay. But I connected especially to the fervent love and complete disconnect one can feel simultaneously for their hometown. I can't claim to be a Chicago native, but I understand how someone would be proud to say that. I adore this city like an old friend. And occasionally that old friend chews with his mouth open in mixed comp ...more
Rick Homuth
Every Chicago resident should read this book.
Algren's classic "prose poem about my home-town; nothing more" feels all the more urgent as his themes of injustice, corruption and inequality, thought to be things of old Chicago's rough past, prove themselves as relevant as ever.

From the afterword: "[This] essay made the assumption that, in times when the levers of power are held by those who have lost the will to act honestly, it is those who have been excluded from the privileges of our society, and left only its horrors, who forge new lever
Melissa Sanchez
I wanna write like this guy ....
A brilliant prose poem. Algren paints a vivid and devastating portrait of mid-century Chicago. The way he uses language is unparalleled in its convoluted dirty beauty, except sometimes I feel like his effort to create a unique turn of phrase gets in the way of his storytelling. I also found it a little difficult to reconcile the Chicago that Algren knew with the one I live in now. He loves his city for its ugliness and brutality; I'd be interested in seeing how he'd describe it now, if he'd even ...more
Originally written in 1950 and banned in Chicago, the forward to the 1960 version (included at the back) finds Algren (justifiably) even more bitter than he was ten years earlier. I felt like what Algren saw as good about Chicago has largely vanished (or changed at least) while his portrait of what is wrong with Chicago, the ugliness in the city's character, still rings true. The annotations in this version give helpful information on Algren's many references to Chicago history, crime, the labor ...more
Joe Brunory
I read the 60th anniversary edition which has notes on each chapter since some of the timely references have been a bit obscured by time. I still felt its edge though, and as I read more and realize when it was written, I realized how influential this must have been for the author career, not necessarily in a positive way. It's a work of art, now a classic, that was not so well received in it's time. It reads as prose poetry and some of the phrasings are truly beautiful.
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Born of Swedish-immigrant parents, Nelson Ahlgren Abraham moved at an early age from Detroit to Chicago. At Illinois University he studied journalism. His experiences as a migrant worker during the Depression provided the material for his first novel Somebody in Boots (1935). Throughout his life Algren identified with the American underdog. From 1936 to 1940 (the highpoint of left-wing ideas on th ...more
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“Yet once you've come to be part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.” 47 likes
“Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.” 29 likes
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