Twenty-five books that shaped America How white whales, green lights, and restless spirits forged our national identity

Thomas C. Foster

Book - 2011

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Subjects
Published
New York : Harper c2011.
Edition
1st ed
Language
English
Physical Description
xxi, 323 p. ; 21 cm
ISBN
9780061834400
0061834408
Main Author
Thomas C. Foster (-)
  • Maybe just a little made-up: The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • A man, a plan, a flintlock: The last of the Mohicans
  • The allegory man cometh: The scarlet letter
  • Gotta get back to the pond and set my soul free: Walden
  • I've been workin' on the whale-road: Moby Dick
  • The good gray poet, my eye!: Leaves of grass
  • Girls gone mild: Little women
  • About a boy
  • and a raft: The adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Twofer: A boy's will and North of Boston
  • In praise of prairie: My Ántonia
  • A whole heap of ashes: The great Gatsby
  • Life is a carnival: The sun also rises
  • It takes a weary man to sing a weary song: The weary blues
  • The bird is the word: The Maltese falcon
  • So big: U.S.A.
  • The winepress of injustice: The grapes of wrath
  • Like a hurricane: Their eyes were watching God
  • He ain't heavy, he's my cousin: Go down, Moses
  • American Candide: The adventures of Augie March
  • Me and my shadow: On the road
  • When reading got good: The cat in the hat
  • Walk a mile in my shoes: To kill a mockingbird
  • Not in Kansas anymore: The crying of Lot 49
  • Race, relations: Song of Solomon
  • Home, home on the res: Love medicine.
Review by Library Journal Reviews

Foster (English, Univ. of Michigan, Flint: How To Read Literature like a Professor) is quick to admit that selecting just 25 books to discuss how they helped shape and define a nation is "obviously insane," but he writes that these 25 are simply to be illustrative, not definitive. If you can get past how arbitrary this all seems, Foster's actual writing—breezy, smart, and funny—is a pleasure if a bit too cute. For example, he admits that he would prefer to write about The House of the Seven Gables ("it has a character named Hepzibah, and how often does one of those come along?") over The Scarlet Letter, but "all the world thinks otherwise," so discusses the latter. Nonetheless, Foster's chapters, which include overviews of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Little Women, My Antonia, The Crying of Lot 49, and Song of Solomon, may make you want to read, or reread, the books themselves. Foster concludes by briefly mentioning 15 additional books. VERDICT The book is a delight to read, but the author is not brave in his choices and doesn't take any stands. Not for scholars, but entertaining enough that people familiar with the titles may well enjoy it as much as readers new to many of the books covered.—William D. Walsh, Georgia State Univ., Atlanta [Page 85]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Works of imaginative literature from American writers are Foster's choice for his "Great Books" list. Despite stilted language, Foster says, Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans makes the cut because Cooper shows us what a real, sprung-from-the-soil American hero looks like, and because it gave us the first mixed-race buddy story—a notable achievement in a racist time. Foster (How to Read Literature Like a Professor) doesn't much like The Scarlet Letter, but includes it because of Hawthorne's discerning eye for folly, hypocrisy, redemption, and our capacity for error. Walden's importance is about being that still point in the turning world; with Moby-Dick, Melville proves himself America's avatar of complex, even mad narrative; and The Great Gatsby is the most devastating portrait of capitalism run wild in Roaring 20s New York. Among the titles rounding out the list are Leaves of Grass, Huck Finn, My Antonia, The Cat in the Hat, On the Road, Song of Solomon, and Love Medicine. Foster tries to balance the list with women and African-American and Latino writers, though the classic canon and much of the list is predictable. But Foster is a witty, quirkily provocative and perceptive literary critic. (June) [Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor takes readers on a wild ride through literature, highlighting the 25 works that have shaped American identity and outlining what exactly is the "Great American Novel." Original. 50,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

From the author of the New York Times bestselling How to Read Literature Like a Professor comes a highly entertaining and informative book on the twenty-five works of literature that have most shaped the American character. Thomas C. Foster applies his much-loved combination of wit, know-how, and analysis to explain how each work has shaped our very existence as readers, students, teachers, and Americans. He illuminates how books such as The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, My Ántonia, The Great Gatsby, The Maltese Falcon, Their Eyes Were Watching God, On the Road, The Crying of Lot 49, and others captured an American moment, how they influenced our perception of nationhood and citizenship, and what about them endures in the American character. Twenty-five Books That Shaped America is a fun and enriching guide to America through its literature.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

From the author of the New York Times bestselling How to Read Literature Like a Professor comes a highly entertaining and informative book on the twenty-five works of literature that have most shaped the American character. Thomas C. Foster applies his much-loved combination of wit, know-how, and analysis to explain how each work has shaped our very existence as readers, students, teachers, and Americans. He illuminates how books such as The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, My Ántonia, The Great Gatsby, The Maltese Falcon, Their Eyes Were Watching God, On the Road, The Crying of Lot 49, and others captured an American moment, how they influenced our perception of nationhood and citizenship, and what about them endures in the American character. Twenty-five Books That Shaped America is a fun and enriching guide to America through its literature.