Nelson Algren may be my favorite unappreciated genius of American literature. His fiction, largely set in his hometown of Chicago, blends grit and sensitivity to portray the grifters and the scammers, the addicts and the down-and-outers, whose humanity we often overlook.
Between 1942 and 1956, he put together a run of five books — “Never Come Morning,” “The Neon Wilderness,” “The Man with the Golden Arm,” “Chicago: City on the Make” and “A Walk on the Wild Side” — as good as anything any writer anywhere has ever done.
And yet, Algren, who died at 72 in 1981, has essentially been forgotten, his work unread, his name unrecalled.
“The Man with the Golden Arm” may have won...