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Algren: A Life

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  43 ratings  ·  15 reviews
Chicago Writers Association Nonfiction Book of the Year (2017)
Society of Midland Authors Literary Award in Biography (2017)

A tireless champion of the downtrodden, Nelson Algren, one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th century, lived an outsider’s life himself. He spent a month in prison as a young man for the theft of a typewriter; his involvement in Marxist group
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 1st 2016 by Chicago Review Press
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Jason Pettus
I've never read Bettina Drew's 1991 biography of Nelson Algren, so I can't say how it compares to this new one; but certainly this second-ever biography of the famed Chicago-based social realist writer is a delight, both informative and chummy while written in a wry, conversational style that makes you feel like you're hearing gossip out of school around a bar table. And there's a good reason for that -- a veteran of the blue-collar Chicago journalism industry herself, Wisniewski is friends in r ...more
James Murphy
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The attraction isn't Algren so much. My experience with his work is limited. The primary interest is Simone de Beauvoir, with whom Algren had a long-distance romance for several years during the '40s and '50s involving visits back and forth between Chicago and Paris for both of them. As in the case of her legendary relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, she's the stronger magnet.

Wisniewski tells the de Beauvoir relationship well. I think she understood them both and therefore explains their genuin
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Algren: A Life
This was a competent and comprehensive biography. That's praise and blame.

Wisniewski's coverage of Nelson Algren came off as bloodless. Despite the book blurb, excitement for Algren the writer and Algren the man was missing.

What drew Wisniewski to write about Algren and why write about him now? Why publish this biography now? Was it because we have a philistine in the White House, whose only reading stops at 140 characters and who seems as anti-truth as the McCarthy cabal? Did Wi
Christine Negroni
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Frankly, I knew little about Nelson Algren before picking up this book. I decided to read it after meeting the author, Mary Wisniewski when she was reviewing my book, The Crash Detectives which was published this fall.

Like the movie, Amy, which I saw before actually hearing any of Amy Winehouse's music, Algren: A Life also presents the writer's work within the context of the events shaping his perspective at the time.

Algren's fixation on the American underclass which began during the Great Depre
Carly Thompson
Informative, clearly written biography of Chicago author Nelson Algren. I enjoyed reading about Chicago in the early part of the twentieth century and Algren's relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. ...more
Rich Farrell
I knew little about Algren prior to reading this. My first apartments were in Humboldt Park and then Bucktown, and I have an interest in the city’s and humanity’s underbelly, so this was on my list for a while. I loved The Man with the Golden Arm in its classic yet edgy style. I wanted to know more about the man and the world he lived in that led to its creation.

This biography was useful for a beginner like me. It kept my interest in his somewhat rise and fall, but like his work, it seems like
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
A thorough and wry biography.
tortoise dreams
Dec 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
A biography of the Chicago author who wrote The Man with the Golden Arm and A Walk on the Wild Side.

Book Review: Algren: A Life, like its subject, gets the job done. This is a solid biography, fair and balanced (a sometimes forgotten necessity), hitting all the major details and giving the reader all the required basics. Mary Wisniewski gives (too) long summaries of Algren's novels, but her analysis is to the point. The reader comes away knowing enough, without any big gaps or questions.

A friend
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nelson Algren was a champion of the disenfranchised and he would have a lot to say about America today. He would undoubtedly be outraged by the division among the classes that is our current reality. I read this book primarily because Nelson Algren is my great-uncle (my mother's uncle) and I am always interested in works about and by Algren. I think the book provides an honest perspective on his genius and his struggles. I am a little surprised that Mary Wisniewski didn't reach out to my mother ...more
Mike Algrenfan
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this for one simple reason - explanations of Algren source material. It is delightful to learn where some of his stories originate. I think he is the best American writer yet. My interest is not so much his life (though I have read both biographies) as with where his stories take me.
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent Book. Could have been proofread a bit better. The Clutter Slayings were in Kansas, not Iowa. A few instances where she was leading the witness (reader) with "this is sexist behavior." The reader should make those distinctions for his/her self. But overall paints Nelson in a fair light. ...more
Reece Nelson
Nov 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: newer
Superb! Informative. A unique life lived.
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I won this in a Goodreads first reads giveaway...thank you! Sorry, I didn’t read this...passed it on to another reader, as I decided it wasn’t for me. But she said it was a very good book.
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“The idea astonished him. He wrote later that being able to love only contingently meant being able to live only contingently. If she did not play a direct role in Sartre’s work and she was not sleeping with him, why did she need to be with him all the time? For now Nelson was” 0 likes
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