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Chicago: City on the Make
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Chicago: City on the Make

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  528 ratings  ·  69 reviews
This 50th anniversary edition has been newly annotated by David Schmittgens and Bill Savage with explanations for everything from Chicago history to slang to what the Black Sox scandal was and why it mattered.

In this slender classic ... Algren tells us all we need to know about passion, heaven, hell. And a city. - From the introduction by Studs Terkel

Nelson Algren (1909 -
Paperback, 50th Anniversary, newly annotated, 135 pages
Published September 25th 2001 by University Of Chicago Press (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
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.
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.)
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
Mar 17, 2013 tina added it
"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
Sep 04, 2008 Sam added it
"'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.
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
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.
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
Jan 10, 2011 Vogisland added it
Shelves: fiction
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.
Muscle-bound prose poem from Nelson Algren. Great meditation on a great city.
Eric Cartier
This brief prose-poem is a remarkable ode to my adopted city. I loved Algren's slang, rugged characters' nicknames and childhood recollections. And his description of the hustler attitude fits today's crooks in the Loop and thugs on the West Side. If he thought the city was done for in the Fifties, I wonder what he'd make of it now?

"Wise up, Jim: it's a joint where the bulls and the foxes live well and the lambs wind up head-down from the hook."
This book, to me, was interesting, yet, I felt like I jumped into the middle of a conversation. It was an interesting read, no doubt, to someone that breathes Chicago like I do, and more importantly it made me curious about Algren and since reading this book, I have purchased "A Transatlantic Love Affair: Love Letters to Algren from Symone de Beauvior". I don't know when I'll get around to reading it, but I'm comforted by just owning it.
Brilliant stuff. The annotations in the back of the book explain many of the period references made in the course of the essay, cutting down on much potential bewilderment, and the inclusion of his response to the critics who bashed it is incredibly valuable in giving the reader insight into Algren's views on literature and the role of the writer in society. We could really use someone like him today.
I really like Algren's prose. Deliberately real. Bleak, hard-hitting, like Hemingway says. Can't really muster much inspiration from it, but it is what it is.
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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.” 38 likes
“Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.” 22 likes
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