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The Man With the Golden Arm

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  2,407 ratings  ·  220 reviews
The Great Novel Which Won The First NATIONAL BOOK AWARD

Every city has its Division Street, where dreams are more apt to betray a man than they are to come true. On Frankie Machine's Division Street two women contended for his body and his soul - Molly-O with love, Zosh with the strange power that comes from hate. And when love was not enough and hate grew too strong, there
Mass Market Paperback, 454 pages
Published January 1951 by Pocket Books (first published 1949)
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3.89  · 
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 ·  2,407 ratings  ·  220 reviews

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Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Listen up, those of you who loved Hard Rain Falling. Carpenter's good, but as far as I can tell from just reading one book from each of them, Carpenter owes just about everything he's got to Algren.

The Man With the Golden Arm follows Frankie Machine, morphine-addict and sometime card-dealer, on a slow path of dissolution--my favorite kind of path. It's similar to Infinite Jest in its sober and sobering study of addiction and the cycle of poverty, and I have a hard time believing Sergeant McGanti
Scott Sigler
Feb 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book.

First off, the writing. Holy crap can Algren write. The language is lush and gorgeous. His ability to paint vivid character portraits is among the best I've ever read. Analogy and metaphor are this cat's playground. While I'm not much for the world of literature, it's easy to see why this won the National Book Award in 1950.

On the other hand, though, is the story itself. Goddamn depressing. Wait, I should use all-caps: IT IS GODDAMNED DEPRESSING.
Jan 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I grew up in Chicago in the neighborhood Algren writes about and at the same time he was writing about it ... so from the beginning I was at odds with this book. This isn't the neighborhood that I grew up in! But ... after finishing the book and thinking about some of my Polish relatives who either owned taverns or spent a lot of time in taverns I have to reluctantly admit that Algren is portraying a part of Chicago that I was simply too young to know about.

Some reviewers have referred to this n
The old American myth is that if we work hard and have a properly optimistic attitude, the world is at our fingertips. Life is good and good for you in God's Country. This is bullshit.

And Nelson Algren, at the height of the McCarthy Era, had the courage to say so. His are the stories of all the American dreamers who lost out. While the story drags a bit at time, it's still compelling. Algren breaks up the storyline with long, poetically gorgeous ruminations about sociology, psychology, and what
Katie Grainger
The Man with the Golden Arm is an incredible peace of American literature which tells the story of Frankie Machine. When Frankie arrives home to Chicago from the Second World War he comes back with a Morphine habit which he initially hides from his associates and wife.

Life for Frankie is hard, he dreams of being a drummer but his real skill is in his arm, being a card dealer. He uses his skills to make his money. However back at home his wife Sophie is not making life easy for him either. She h
Aug 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A mind-blowing book, set in the tenements and bars of the down-and-out in pre-WWII Chicago. the main character a junkie card-dealer whose arm is golden because of his steady dealing skills and the lines of scars. an amazing mixture of idiomatic language capturing the thoughts, ticks, and dreams of the homeless, alcoholics, cripples, bar owners and prostitutes and a pristine, lyrical narrative voice- you are both in the world and looking in into its tragedy. is this book christian in its negative ...more
Jun 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, 2009
I have had a beautiful (if a tad yellow around the edges) used copy of "The Man with the Golden Arm" sitting on my shelf, unread, for 5 years now. Part of me did not want to read it for fear of damaging its aging cover by hauling the book to and fro, and part of me was immensely turned off by his other writings. Algren has a tendency to romanticize too much, to assign higher meanings to low functioning people existing in a sub-prime city.

"The Man...," however, hits on so many universal truths,
Emma Sea
Loved the writing. Loved. Did not care for the plot. Bored. Quitting.
Jun 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A dark, challenging novel. We watched the life and struggles of Frankie Machine who is a heroin addict, dreams of being a drummer and wants to escape the life he is living. This is a character driven novel, the plot hides beneath the dialogue and you find yourself reading between the lines, not a huge amount of plot.
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, library
There was plenty not to like about this book, but the author really pulled it all together and made a compelling story out of a bunch of characters that were not very relatable at the beginning. The first few chapters seemed to just be “here’s an unlikeable character, but he’s nothing compared to the next guy...”

It is a tough story well told.
May 17, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think I want to like this book more than I did. If I had read it ten years ago, I think I would have thought it was completely incredible, but I've spent a lot of time reading a bunch of Bukowski and listening to a bunch of Tom Waits and the 'hard times' theme is so familiar that it's difficult to fully appreciate that this guy was doing it long before the stuff I've mostly read. Either way, this is a pretty awesome Chicago novel, and Algren knows how to hit hard with his phrasing. He has a ni ...more
Maggie Roessler
Some cats just swing that way...

The book is so good I don't know what to say about it but I can say something about that introduction because that was plain awful. Again and again Giles tells us how Algren "challenges" us to identify with these grotesque poor people. Well when I first started reading this I did have that wow moment of damn, I never did quite imagine so clearly what it would be like to actually be one of those putrid crusty drunks leering cock-eyed from a bar stool (I'm thinking
Aug 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, fiction
This book is a powerful...well, everything. There is great power in the story, such that you will fall down a dark hole. I could read a book like this at a rock concert and not hear a note. The world is so fully realized that, while I was reading, whatever was going on around me disappeared. I was there!

There is a strong indictment against poverty, but the stronger message was against alcohol. Algren's written a time capsule for those of us born after the negative effects of drink were well-know
Jun 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I can't believe I've put off reading Algren for so long. I had no idea what a brilliant writer he was. Not to mention, as a born and raised Chicagoan, 3rd generation Pole, and having lived in Ukrainian Village for a spell, I have a special appreciation for his descriptions of post WWII Chicago and his masterful use of the vernacular. The image of Piggy-O's bleeding gums turning the froth of his beer pink is one I can't erase from my mind and I love the quote about "the great, secret and special ...more
Alex Laser
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful elegy to the down-and-out. Algren's work lies somewhere on the spectrum between Ashcan naturalism of the early 1900s and the hyperrealism of the 1980. His ability to lend dimension and patronizing-free empathy to the hustlers and con artists of West Side Chicago, while inverting cops from would-be saviors into wretched guilt-ridden philosophers, makes this book a forerunner to works as diverse in genre as the literary nonficiton "In Cold Blood", the songs of Lou Reed & The Velvet ...more
The Literary Chick
Beautifully written, deals with tragic, depressing subject matters in a poetically artistic way. Sad and bleak, was very glad to have finally finished this one just to escape the world it put me in. Will never be able to forget it. Think Selby via Faulkner, with a bit of Dostoyevsky, Hugo, and Tennessee Williams mixed in. Subject matter and conclusion may be too much for many.
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After the Second World War many American veterans came back from the war with a life full of prosperity, but not poor doomed Frankie "Machine" Majcinek, his deck of cards did not hold the American Dream, a dream that's unreachable for far too many, a great lie.
Apr 21, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm ashamed to say I only got halfway through this. It felt so claustrophobic that I threw it to the floor and ran outside in my underwear. To Algren's fans everywhere I offer sincere regrets. I admired what I read but I didn't want to read anymore.
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this despite the ultra-bleak setting and characters. The story takes place in post-WWII Chicago in a working-class, Polish immigrant neighborhood (Division and Milwaukee), and the characters are all drunks and bums, gamblers, thieves, prostitutes, panhandlers, bartenders, janitors, newsies, delivery people, war veterans, draft flunkies, junkies, drug dealers, spiteful wives, two-timing women, prison wardens, and cops. Also a couple dogs (one of which is also a lush), cats (one of which ...more
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chicago
"Blackmail and terrorism, incest and pauperism, embezzlement and horse theft, tampering and procuring, abduction and quackery, adultery and mackery."

"That was the way things were because that was how things had always been. Which was why they could never be any different."

"'He's like me,' Frankie explained, 'never drinks. Unless he's alone or with somebody.'"

"Faces bloody as raw pork ground slowly in the great city's grinder; faces like burst white bags, one with eyes like some dying hen's and
I recently read Ironweed by William Kennedy, and found similarities between The Man with the Golden Arm and Ironweed. Both deal with individuals who begin with poor prospects in life and through a series of choices, missteps and bad luck progress into a downward spiral with no real chance of breaking away from their lifestyle. Sound depressing? It can be. The Man with the Golden Arm was extremely well written, but I enjoyed Ironweed more. I struggled though as to why. Francis Phelan in Ironweed ...more
Rob Christopher
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Essential Chicago reading. Bleak, to be sure, but fair. Why has no one opened a bar called the Tug & Maul?!
Lee Foust
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
It's rough, it's sloppy, it's poetic, meandering, even--I think--contradictory at one point, and ultimately exquisitely sad and utterly beautiful. Particularly effecting here is the mix of cynicism with vulnerability, making this novel maybe the finest depiction of that human condition in which we're always bleeding and always finding novel ways to stem the blood flow by pretending it doesn't hurt that much, by ridiculing the pain as if we don't feel it at all.

My first Algren, I can't wait to re
Neon Wilderness, Algren's book of short stories, was great. So I dived really deep into the Man with the Golden Arm- I got a 50th anniversary copy of the book with reflections from Algren's friends and literary criticism of the book and I facilitated an online Facebook discussion of the book for which I reread the first part to get the story clear in my head. This book felt like an unsung classic and had a unique fatalistic spirit that I have never encountered before.

As with Neon Wilderness the
Dec 13, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If Thomas Wolfe wrote pulp fiction, it would look like this: gritty streets and their demimonde presented with fullbore noirish prose and over the top descriptions. I wanted to love the book, as it nailed a sense of place and I thought the characters were great(though oddly, Frankie Machine was the weakest of the lot, usually an amateur's mistake of seeing the story though a protagonist's eyes). The florid description, which originally seemed economical and powerful in the service of description ...more
Printable Tire
Apr 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: urbans
A favorite. Skip the movie.

Or better yet, read my review of the movie!

The Man with the Golden Arm (the movie) is a decent career vehicle for Frank Sinatra, but fails abysmally as a good adaptation of a fantastic book. You always hear about how books are "changed" when they are made into films- things are cut out, dumbed down, etc. Well, you can't even say they "changed" anything with the movie- they just told a completely different story. The characters and setting are the same, sure- but not t
David Gallin-Parisi
"Like drinking a sunrise out of a paper bag," a favorite quote of a friend which describes The Man with the Golden Arm. This book is like slowly sipping on a ragged sunrise, a very north-rising sunrise, blotted out by snow and neon signs, taking a long time to sweep upward. Algren does include few passages that drag a tiny bit. I noticed whenever I felt the pace slowing down, that I switched my focus from the character's jazzy verbage to the precise details of light, loneliness, and despair rend ...more
Feb 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Algren's story takes place in the dark underworld of sub-class addicts: con artists, thieves, prostitutes, alcoholics, drug addicts, people who's voices are never heard, dehumanized, non-existent, yet trudging somewhere in our backyard of Chicago. Ironic how in the world of high rolling finance, these same addicts are all too real and commonplace.

I read Algren years ago, yet Man With the Golden Arm remains on the bookshelf of my favorite works of fiction. His characters were all too real, a voi
Jim B
It was hard for me to rate this classic.

From the start, Nelson Algren's words are inventive, creative, fresh (even almost 50 years later), and memorable. If I rated books on writing style, this would be a 5 star book. No surprise that this book was the first winner of the National Book Award. If everyone has a book inside of him, this was Algren's great creation. Algren must have been a keen observer and had a sharp ear for the people he writes about. Looking at his biography, between where he l
John Defrog
Jan 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First of all, forget about the Sinatra film, because that version bears little resemblance to the source. Algren’s story of heroin addict Frankie Machine, who makes a living dealing cards at illegal poker games, is a grim portrait of drunks, shoplifters and lowlifes in a Chicago slum. Similar to Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side, Frankie serves more as a centerpiece for Algren to showcase the variety of characters that populate his world, and wax lyrical about their dehumanized existence. Crucial ...more
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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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