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Chicago: City on the Make

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  700 Ratings  ·  91 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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Community Reviews

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Brian Gatz
Nov 19, 2011 Brian Gatz rated it it was amazing
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 liked it
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
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
Jan 24, 2015 Joni rated it really liked it
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
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
Jun 07, 2013 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, chicago
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
Jan 17, 2016 Trixie rated it really liked it
Poetic, a must-read for Chicagoans. I found the annotations to be a little cumbersome; they're listed at the end of the book by page. Flipping back and forth disrupted the flow and effect of Algren's work.
Feb 20, 2012 Emily rated it it was amazing
'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
Kate Dunn
Dec 16, 2015 Kate Dunn rated it really liked it
This slim gem is a dog-ear-every-other-pager.
Kevin Burrows
Feb 26, 2016 Kevin Burrows rated it it was amazing
Once upon a time I was bar back in a little piece of history called The Charleston tavern in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. It was a Polatino neighborhood-German Polish and then Mexican and art students, thats the way the Gentrification ball bounces sometimes. I was cleaning tables early in the evening and two old beatnik cats, this was 1987 were sitting at a table playing chess. One of em said "Hey have you heard of this cat named Tom Waits? He's like a musical Nelson Algren" Being a big ...more
Jan 08, 2016 Julia rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
1. my sister made a goodreads account a week or two ago, an action i'd been dreading could occur for some time; my refusal to accept her friend request devolved into a vicious swampy sort of argument that I decided to ignore rather than resolve. this isn't a space for her. which is silly of course because I think of it and I write in it as if it's not a space for anyone but me, but it is, and I have accepted the friend requests of other people, and the long self-indulgent ramblings are public. a ...more
Sep 27, 2014 Brent rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 30, 2011 Nora rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 14, 2016 Crysta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-studies
My first Algren, despite a lifetime in/near Chicago. Sweeping prose poetry of the Chicago that was in the past. Glimmers still exist, beneath the glass and steel of downtown, and especially in the neighborhoods. Per Algren, "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.”

I plan to re-read this, particularly if I can track down the annotated version that
Dec 01, 2011 Margaret rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 23, 2015 John Defrog rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 31, 2012 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 14, 2011 Neal Groothuis rated it really liked it
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
Sep 23, 2014 Rachel rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 07, 2013 John Matthews rated it liked it
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
A Chicago classic that I think I'd need to read again to appreciate even more. A slim 80 pages of lyrical prose, it was at once beautiful and gritty and densely packed--much like the Chicago Algren was portraying. The writing was so akin to poetry and made reference to events of which I wasn't quite familiar, I often had to refer to the Notes section in the back to make sense of what Algren was saying. There would also be passages in the text I thought would have an explanatory note, but when I ...more
Mar 11, 2014 Chamberlon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
May 29, 2015 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
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.
Dave Barie
Jul 24, 2016 Dave Barie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm only sorry that didn't discover Nelson Algren earlier. This should be required reading for all admirers of Chicago.
Josh Mings
Aug 16, 2014 Josh Mings rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Feb 26, 2015 Matt Kovalcik rated it liked it
"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
Oct 24, 2015 Eileen rated it it was amazing
Interesting read. Not what I expected at all ---and that made the stories even better!
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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.” 58 likes
“Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.” 44 likes
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