Chicago: City on the Make

Chicago: City on the Make

by Nelson Algren

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 ...

- From the introduction by Studs TerkelNelson Algren (1909 - 1981) won the National Book Award in 1950 for The Man with the Golden Arm. His other works include Walk on the Wild Side, and Conversations with Nelson Algren, the last available from the University of Chicago Press.David Schmittgens teaches English at New Trier High School in Northfield, Illinois.Bill Savage is a senior lecturer at Northwestern University and coeditor of the 50th Anniversary Critical Edition of The Man with the Golden Arm.Cover photograph: Robert McCullogh

  • Language: English
  • Category: Poetry
  • Rating: 4.16
  • Pages: 135
  • Publish Date: September 25th 2001 by University Of Chicago Press
  • Isbn10: 0226013855
  • Isbn13: 9780226013855

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I spent a few days in Chicago once and think about the place often.

Too much of this book is too much good to comment on.

But CITY ON THE MAKE, written shortly after Algren received the National Book Award for THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, took the romanticization of Chicago's street smart sharpsters and corrupt politicians to heights achieved by no one else. As a long time resident of Chicago, I did not love CITY ON THE MAKE either -- but, of course, I read it 60 years after the fact. To me, it coasts lazily on stereotypes resulting in a one dimensional depiction of a city that is far deeper and more complex than anything Algren even hints at in this short book. The Afterword was written by Algren himself in 1961, for a 10 year anniversary edition of the book.

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. This edition provides amazing assistance with the notes in the back, but ultimately I found myself simultaneously embracing and fighting with Algren's prose.

One thing that Algren does get right that I don't expect will ever change is that once you've lived here a while, you will love this old whore of a town more than she can ever love you (paraphrased/juxtaposed from several of the author's own words...although I don't think he ever calls her an old whore...that's all me.

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. This gritty piece of prose poetry, I think, is easily related to by any who have loved, hated, or hated to love Chicago. Algren uses many of his pages here to detail the horrors of city life, elevating Chicago to prime exemplar. But Algren cannot simply disparage Chicago; he loves this city and he loves the people that populate it. In what are, perhaps, my favorite lines of the poem, Algren proclaims, "Yet once youve come to be part of this particular patch, youll never love another.

In Chicago, in our own curious span, we have seesawed between blind assault and blind counter-assault, hanging men in one decade for beliefs which, in another, we honor others." Algren is a witty, smart man, and a wonderful writer.

Either way, I appreciate having Algren as an observer to report with clear and lively prose about a Chicago that has changed a lot since 1951 without apology. And Algren continues with his observations of fine arts regarding the way wealth operates for its own benefit. Nelson Algren was a more cranky beat-poet but he seemed to have a deeper understanding of economic hardship which in Chicago: City on the Make he turned into great prose.

At Illinois University he studied journalism. Algren's style is a dark naturalism that passionately records the details of trapped urban existence with flashes of melancholy poetry.