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Chicago: City On the Make turns 60

Nelson Algren's passionate, poetic, book-length ode to his native city, Chicago: City On the Make celebrates its sixtieth anniversary this year, and University of Chicago is putting out a new edition which includes historic photos and annotations. Admittedly, I'm not sure what to make of the latter. I own an unannotated edition from the late 1980s which I've read more times than I can remember, and for me one of the book's delights is coming across a piece of information elsewhere that explains one of Algren's now-obscure references (Carl Wanderer et al). Having those references annotated and explained right there in the same volume would take much of the mystery and fun out of it.

Several years ago, I read Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of Chicago, his exhaustive (and often exhausting) account of the city's underworld. I was surprised to discover how much Algren borrowed from Asbury, specifically the latter's descriptions of 19th Century hoodlums and other ne'er-do-wells, for Chicago: City On the Make. Some of Asbury's phrases were used verbatim and (as I recall) without attribution. Merely a minor irritation, however, one which barely detracts from the greatness of Algren's work, which to me is the finest book ever written about Chicago.

June 2, 2011 in Books | Permalink


Alas, I don't think there is a comparable work about Kansas City. And I don't think I'm the one to write it either.

Posted by: Paul at Jun 2, 2011 8:14:36 PM

Well, there's always Calvin Trillin's rhapsodies about KC barbeque.

Posted by: Pete at Jun 3, 2011 10:29:07 AM

It's also unquestionably my favorite book about Chicago. As a photographer myself, I should applaud the new edition but like you, having not seen it yet, I'm rather apprehensive.
Thanks for noting the anniversary!

Posted by: Jim at Jun 6, 2011 3:12:39 PM

Pete--thought you'd want to know about our Algren doc and Kickstarter campaign. Best regards.

Posted by: Michael Caplan at Jun 10, 2011 12:10:05 PM

Michael, I already got your email and just posted a notice here on my blog. Really looking forward to the film.

Posted by: Pete at Jun 10, 2011 1:39:59 PM