Chicago: City on the Make
is an essay by Nelson Algren
published in 1951. Initially greeted with scorn by critics and newspaper editors in the city of its gaze (The Chicago Daily News
famously called it a "Case for Ra(n)t Control"), it is now widely regarded by scholars as the definitive prose portrait of the city of Chicago
, although it has never rivaled the literary status of Carl Sandburg
's 1916 poem "Chicago
." Algren leans heavily on the imagery and themes developed by Sandburg, to whom Algren dedicated the book. Curiously, he also quietly leans upon a poem about New York called "The City" by Ben Maddow, from whom Algren lifted powerful images of urban life. Subsequent portraits of Chicago, such as Studs Terkel
's 1985 Chicago
, have likewise leaned heavily upon Algren's work.
In the 12,000-word lyrical essay, Algren summarizes 120 years of Chicago history as a tangle of hustlers, gangsters, and corrupt politicians, but he ultimately declares his love for the city with these famous lines: "Once you've become a 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." Algren locates the city's heart in the "nobodies nobody knows," the ginsoaks, stew bums, and shell-shocked veterans who lurk in the alleys and linger in the weedy wastes underneath the 'L'
tracks. Unrivaled in its depiction of Chicago's downtrodden, the... Read More