The adventures of Augie March

by Saul Bellow

Hardcover, 2003





New York : Viking, 2003.


This grand-scale heroic comedy tells the story of the exuberant young Augie, a poor Chicago boy growing up during the Depression. While his neighborhood friends all settle down into their various chosen professions, Augie, as particular as an aristocrat, demands a special destiny. He latches on to a wild succession of occupations, proudly rejecting each one as too limiting. It is not until he tangles with a glamorous perfectionist named Thea, a huntress with a trained eagle, that his independence is seriously threatened. Luckily, his nature, like the eagle's, breaks down under the strain. He goes on to recruit himself to even more outlandish projects, but always ducks out in time to continue improvising his unconventional career.

Media reviews

The Adventures of Augie March is for me the great creation myth of twentieth century American literature.

User reviews

LibraryThing member girlunderglass
I couldn't even get to page 100... The introduction of The Adventures of Augie March makes a claim for the "primary of feeling and of unsymbolic real life" depicted in the book. But the most beautiful thing about books is the fact that they offer either an escape from this "real life" or a different perspective of viewing or living it. Saul Bellow consciously decides to offer neither and makes a brave attempt at portraying the life of Augie realistically but, unfortunately, the result is not entertaining, educating, or interesting in any way; to me, at least. "I went to the bakery today. I stole some bread. Grandma scolded me." Sure, you can take those sentences and transform them into long paragraphs, embroidering the text with adjectives and adverbial phrases; it will look a great deal better stylistically, but it won't have any more meaning than the original. And that's exactly what Bellow seems to be doing. Describing in great detail and authentic style an extremely boring character and his extremely boring life. There's nothing sadder than an author blessed with the gift of writing but deprived of the power of imagination.… (more)
LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
Epic in the truest sense, an astonishingly dense and beautifully lyrical account of an undistinguished Chicago kid's coming of age. I wasn't too far into "The Adventures of Augie March" before I realized that one reading wasn't going to be enough and that I'd have to re-read it before too long. Bellow packs more material and feeling into two or three pages than some novelists can manage in entire novels: the book fairly bursts with characters, anecdotes, and uncannily great descriptive passages. There's something Joycean about the whole thing, too. Bellow inserts plenty of classical references in his description of grimy, busy mid-century Chicago, and his writing transmogrifies Chicago's trainyards and ethnic slums into hauntingly beautiful and memorable places, making them unlikely settings for literary greatness, But great is what "The Adventures of Augie March" is: its rich, almost grandiose sentences subtly probe the Big Questions while capturing the deeply affecting idiosyncrasies of the book's characters. It's nothing short of stunning. The next time I've got a few weeks to fill -- and God only knows when that will be -- I'll surely be picking this one up again.… (more)
LibraryThing member mjiko
This is one of my all-time favourite books, and a classic American bildungsroman. The prose is dense and full of description, but the book still storms along at a great pace, with fantastic characterizations and narrative. The atmosphere of Chicago that comes through is incredible. Saul Bellow encapsulates the spirit of that great city.… (more)
LibraryThing member growl
This book took me a while to get into. Once he starts working for his brother it picked up a bit and when he travels to Mexico I really enjoyed it. I was disappointed with the ending, but I guess that is the only type of ending a book of this genre could have. The descriptions and character development border on Dickensian. Not a quick read, but is satisfying.… (more)
LibraryThing member Narshkite
So much has been said about this book that I am going to balk on a review. I will just say that it is a wonderful portrait of a time and a place and a person, it is rollicking good fun, and it is unashamedly smart. Reading such a literate book, its brilliant and apt and challenging references worn proudly but without a trace of arrogance or elitism, made me long to read more challenging books.… (more)
LibraryThing member hdusty
a hard slog but well worth. america in a novel: the city, the country, the personalities. funny, heroic, tragic.
LibraryThing member mike_wasson
This was a long trek and occasionally a bit of a slog, but wonderous at the level of pure syntax and weird astonishing description. (On a merchant marine ship: "[T]he horizon sea rising to grip after a cloud like a crab after a butterfly, with armored totter, then falling and travailing. Plus the sun's heat and the patriarch wake, spitting and lacy.") The book reminded me somehow of Thomas Pynchon's V., more in style than substance. (And if Benny Profane is Sal Paradise inverted, as a type he is closer to Augie March, wandering and striving and yet oddly passive.)… (more)
LibraryThing member RodneyWelch
A wandering picaresque novel that does little more than chase its own tail. The classic status of this thing continually confounds me.
LibraryThing member RoseCityReader
Augie March follows the life of the hero from childhood in Chicago, through a sojourn in Mexico with a zany huntress, to life on the seas in the Merchant Marines. Full of Bellow's over-the-top characters and riddled with discourses on Big Ideas, Augie is a great American hero. Bellow is a treasure.
LibraryThing member tzelman
Took a long time to finish, but well worth it. Augie is a wonderful optimist in the novel about influence and growing up in Chicago
LibraryThing member annaflbak
I found Bellow an exciting author when I first read him in the late 1960s
paperback, intro by Albert J. Guerard
LibraryThing member Oreillynsf
As amy have pointed out on this pages, Augie March is a long hard book. But it is absolutely considered a classic, so I muddled through. I confess that it's special character eluded me, though the historical value of the book as a window into the 1930s was something. But all in all, for me it was more trouble than it was worth. That by no means indicates that you won't get more from it than me.… (more)
LibraryThing member WrathofAchilles
Augie, himself, is frustrating, and I think Bellow wouldn't disagree. But Augie's purposeless path allows the light to shine on so many quintesentially American people, places, and ideas, that on the whole the book is awesome.
LibraryThing member hemingwayok
In the beginning, I wanted to kill myself - it was so boring. But, when it's Saul Bellow, you read the damn thing. So, I read. I really liked the way Bellow depicted America through the 30s and 50s. In quite a few parts, when Bellow was telling of Augie in the 30s, I almost felt like I was reading Fitzgerald - the fall of the rich into poverty - but it was a little darker, a little more "American". This, I think, is the distinct difference between Bellow and Fitzgerald - one was from the streets of hometown America and the other spoke from the lenses of ex-patriotism.… (more)
LibraryThing member keylawk
The bildungsroman of a fatherless fellow from privation drifting through jobs, women, and war. Bellow draws very contrasting themes -- longing and belonging, poverty and wealth, love and loss, with a comic undertow.
LibraryThing member jddunn
A big rollicking humane book about a time when America was still a big rollicking humane country.
LibraryThing member kishields
If you can get through the first 200 pages, things definitely start to pick up. Long, sprawling story of half a life--who knows where Augie would ultimately go? The book is just what its title describes, a series of adventures in a wandering, disjointed life. Augie is a somewhat passive man, a "recruit" in others' passions with little idea of his own. This leads him from mentor to mentor in a variety of careers, including union organizer, secretary to a disabled wheeler-dealer and Merchant Marine; from one woman to another, the most interesting being his rich partner, Thea, who is determined to train a bald eagle to hunt lizards in Mexico (!); and from poor to rich and back again, from Chicago to Mexico to Paris. The constants in his life are his family--blind mother, ambitious older brother and mentally disabled younger brother--and his childhood friends from his rough-and-tumble upbringing in a poor neighborhood of Chicago. These friends also pop up everywhere he goes in another wide variety of jobs and locales, but often displaying more passion in their beliefs and goals than Augie is ever able to summon up for himself.… (more)
LibraryThing member pjpjx
well at times a bit juvenile, but a beautiful book
LibraryThing member abjaxx
I read this book over a four-day period in order to finish it in time for an AP Literature class. While this may have marred my experience with the book, I have been known to fly through others in quite the same time span -- when I enjoy them. This novel was filled to overflowing with florid descriptions and myriad deviations from any central plot. While I recognize its overall arc as a coming of age story, felt the ending was unresolved and showed limited change in the way Augie was to face the rest of his life. It was tedious, boring, and I would urge everyone being on the planet to avoid this book at all costs.… (more)
LibraryThing member NateK
The writing is excellent I just could not connect with it. Additionally there was much detail about people I didn't care about and who seemed to only inhabit the general periphery of Augies life.

I made it 100 pages in and decided that was enough.
LibraryThing member AlCracka
1953. Martin Amis says this is the Great American Novel, probably just to be an asshole. Stacie and S. are not impressed.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
A bit of a disappointment compared to his other books, which were undoubtedly excellent. This one has gone seems to have gone nowhere - or at least well over my head. I might try it again later, and hopefully I won't become crushingly bored within 100 pages.
LibraryThing member auntieknickers
I've only read two books by Bellow, arguably one of the great American authors of the twentieth century. (The first was Herzog, which I read 50 years ago. I have no memory of it, and I suspect that at 16 I did not have the experience to appreciate it.) Augie March, written about 15 years earlier than Herzog, is a fascinating, but often exasperating, novel. My-husband-the-English-major, who listened to it a bit earlier, opined it was a Bildungsroman, but I saw precious little Bildung happening during Augie's Adventures. I would agree with some other Goodreads reviewers that it was more a picaresque novel -- that is, one damned thing after another. Various friends and family members tell Augie that he just lets things happen to him and will follow anyone who flatters him, and I'd agree with them, too.

Although there are major segments set in Mexico and afloat in the Atlantic, the majority of the novel is set in Chicago from the 1920s to the late 1940s. There's plenty of atmosphere, and Bellow has a good memory for the slang of the period. (At least, I assume so, as Bellow came up in this time and place.)

Others have reviewed this book better than I (Steve Sckenda here on Goodreads, for one) but I would like to mention some thoughts I had while listening.

I wish I had a dollar for every adjective Bellow used -- he loved to string them together, especially when describing people's physical appearances. He also seemed a bit fixated on handicaps and imperfections. Not only the obvious major characters -- Georgie, his developmentally-disabled brother; his weak-eyed and eventually blind mother; Einhorn, the near-quadriplegic employer -- have their handicaps pointed out. He points out the physical imperfections, great and small, of many characters. Only Augie and his girlfriends seem exempt -- and even Augie gets two teeth broken in a fight in Mexico and mentions the broken teeth several times afterwards.

Some other twentieth/twenty-first century writers -- John Updike and Richard Ford come to mind -- have revisited the same character multiple times. I almost wish Bellow had written a "Further Adventures of Augie March." He is a character almost too self-aware, but it doesn't seem to get him anywhere, and when the book ends, he is barely even 30 if I read it right. What would Augie become in 10, 20 or 30 years? Sadly, we'll never know (although he may appear in other books under other names?) Although this wasn't my favorite book of all time, I would still recommend it, and if you like audiobooks, the narrator, Tom Parker, does a great job with this one.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
Suffice it to say I can see why this is such a classic. The first person narrative by the book's title character tells the tale of a poor Chicago born Jewish kid who seems to be a natural attraction for other people's schemes. He is smart and good looking and as we listen to his story we realize Augie is always getting advice, from the Russian boarder, Mrs. Lausch to then being adopted, almost literally once, by a series of mentors who all thought Augie would be great for their plan. His jobs are listed here for a reference. He becomes a handbill-distributor, a paperboy, a Woolworth’s stocker, a newsstand clerk, a trinket-seller, a Christmas helper at a department store, a flower delivery boy, a butler, a clerk at fine department stores, a paint salesman, a dog groomer, a book thief, a coal yard worker, a housing inspector, a union organizer, an eagle-trainer, a gambler, a literary researcher, a business machine salesman, a merchant marine, and ultimately an importer-exporter working in wartime Europe. Throughout these endeavors, there are also wonderfully drawn characters who try to give Augie direction on how to get ahead. His brother Simon marries into money and can't understand why Augie doesn't follow in his lead. There are also the women in his life that he falls for, Thea who takes him on a wild Eagle training adventure to Mexico and Stella, the girl he meets there and eventually marries. The writing is complex, filled with allusions to Greek and Roman gods, various figures are compared to universally know references, but it is wonderfully constructed. An example below details Augie and his friends riding in the elevator cars of the luxury hotels:

"In the cage we rose and dropped, rubbing elbows with bigshots and operators, commissioners, grabbers, heelers, tipsters, hoodlums, wolves, fixers, plaintiffs, flatfeet, men in Western hats and women in lizard shoes and fur coats, hothouse and arctic drafts mixed up, brute things and airs of sex, evidence of heavy feeding and systematic shaving, of calculations, grief, not-caring, and hopes of tremendous millions in concrete to be poured or whole Mississippis of bootleg whiskey and beer.” Such sentences occur on almost every page. They are like hall closets; you open them and everything falls out. "

That's true of this book, when you open it up, everything falls out, but going through the trouble to make sense of the contents is very satisfying.

I will include here some lines from a New Yorker essay on Saul Bellow intentions regarding the novel:

"Then, as he recalled, he experienced an epiphany: “I had a room in Paris where I was working, and one day as I was going there after breakfast, a bright spring morning, I saw water trickling down the street and sparkling.” The shining stream, he said, suggested to him the form of a new novel. Perhaps so, but a few other circumstances should be taken into account. This was the time, the postwar years, when American art came into its home country. Not just Bellow but many others walked out from under the shadow of the European masters and invented new, personal styles. Bellow was part of a Zeitgeist, and the stay in Europe encouraged his enlistment. The more he hated France, the more he loved America, and wanted to make an art that was like America—big and fresh and loud.

With this teeming book Bellow returned a Dickensian richness to the American novel. As he makes his way to a full brimming consciousness of himself, Augie careens through numberless occupations and countless mentors and exemplars, all the while enchanting us with the slapdash American music of his voice."
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LibraryThing member JVioland
Good book, well written, entertaining. Unfortunately, not memorable.



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