Magazine July 29, 2019, Issue

Nelson Algren: Chicago’s Bard of the Downtrodden

Nelson Algren (Wikimedia)
Never a Lovely So Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren, by Colin Asher (W. W. Norton, 560 pp., $39.95)

The hour would appear to be right for the resurrection of Nelson Algren (1909–1981), who had been Chicago’s premier novelist several years before Saul Bellow rose to eminence, and who made his reputation as the arch-poet of destitution and degradation, the principal mourner and celebrant of whoredom, pimpery, grifting, drug addiction, and deadly street brawling. The pathos of lumpenproletarian misery has never gone entirely out of artistic fashion, but its status has been enhanced recently by the vogue for socialism and the ever-growing hatred for the undeserving rich. Accordingly, Colin Asher expresses the hope that his new life of Algren

This article appears as “The Loser’s Side of the Street” in the July 29, 2019, print edition of National Review.

Algis ValiunasMr. Valiunas is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor of The New Atlantis.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners




After Harvey Mansfield’s disinvitation from Concordia University, a professor writes in to NR to clarify. Plus, Fred Schwartz on baseball.
The Week

The Week

The Canadian newspaper the National Post reports, ‘Ancient life awakens amid thawing ice caps and permafrost.’ Good news for Joe Biden.

Girth Dearth

According to the Left, it is bad to stigmatize the mentally ill, but unless you have the proper opinions on social issues, you have a mental illness.


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