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The American Dream: A Cultural History [Hardcover]

Lawrence R. Samuel

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press (15 Sep 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815610076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815610076
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.3 x 2.1 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,556,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wake Up, It's Just a Dream 2 Sep 2012
By takingadayoff - Published on
The American Dream is older than America. Even the first settlers from Europe had an American dream - to be free of the oppression they were experiencing at home. But the phrase only became widely used in the 1930s. Then it quickly became a phrase that refused to sit still and be pinned down. Everyone has a different definition of the Dream.

Historian Lawrence Samuel surveys the use of the phrase from the Great Depression to the 21st century and finds it "(m)utable and amorphous, . . the Zelig of mythologies, able to transform itself to fit virtually any situation or cause." It's whatever we want it to be, but like any dream, not quite real.

Samuel examines an entertaining variety of uses of the phrase, but the one that gets to the heart of the American Dream has to be that of Horatio Alger. Alger's stories for boys were wildly popular in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, stories of poor boys who became wealthy through hard work and ingenuity. He wrote over a hundred books and, Samuel says, made a fortune, squandered it, and died penniless. But his fictions trumped the reality of his life, and Samuel finds it "ironic that [Alger's] name would be forever equated with the American Dream of success."

Samuel follows the phrase decade by decade, in movies, TV, advertising, and politics, and finds that every generation experiences a national setback that makes it question the Dream. New immigrants come with their own interpretations of the Dream. And through it all, the politicians and advertisers twist the Dream to suit their own purposes.

Whether we understand the American Dream to be financial security for working hard and playing by the rules, or perhaps spectacular fame and fortune via lottery or reality show, it's a dream apparently almost impossible to attain. Almost without fail, when Americans of any income level are asked how much income they think will make them feel satisfied and secure, it's always about half again what they earn. Non-monetary interpretations of the Dream are just as elusive - an America without poverty or racism or crime. The American Dream is a slippery devil.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concise if somewhat prosaic study on The American Dream 8 Sep 2012
By BLehner - Published on
How would you define The American Dream? Limitless possibilities? The good life? Pursuit of happiness? In The American Dream Lawrence R. Samuel explores this constant presence in the minds of the American people as the one thing defining their culture.
From the beginnings of the Dream during the Great Depression to the times of counterculture in the 1960s straight to the present the author highlights the origins of the Dream, how it evolved over the years, and its relevance today. Of course I've heard about The American Dream before though I admittedly didn't know all that much about this integral part of what shaped the American identity. Mostly compiled through journalistic records the book offers a fascinating, in-depth read for anyone interested in the topic. What I personally enjoyed the most were the excursions into pop culture, showing how The American Dream reflects in both literature and on the big screen. I also like how the author ponders whether there is such a thing as an European or even a Global Dream. Overall I found this book to be a great illumination of the topic, yet I must admit that I found it to be a bit on the dry side too.
Will The American Dream be still there tomorrow? Is it really, as the author suggests, only a myth, existent in our imagination? A doubtlessly thought-provoking conclusion which everyone should answer for themselves.
In short: Concise if somewhat prosaic study on The American Dream!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking 6 April 2014
By Heather Donnelly - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A good theme and a great jumping off point for in class discussions. At times a bit repetitive, though. Could benefit from contemporary perspectives profiles.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Everything under the same label 5 May 2013
By Susana - Published on
The book is interesting, I recommend it. Though the reader should bear in mind that many aspects that are here labelled as being part of the American Dream, are not. Those other aspects are not truly American, and they are not a dream, they are civil rights gained by mankind since the French Revolution and the Declaration of Human Rights and Rights of Workers. So, be careful when you read because not every wish or desire for something better is the American Dream. Many of those longings belong to the field of civil rights and Welfare State. The aspect that belongs truly to the American Dream concept is that of immigration and the thought that you could go to America, start from scratch and become successful. That is American Dream 100%. But to have trade unions, minimum salary guaranteed, access to public health, access to public education, equal pay for equal work, freedom of religion, human rights, are not part of the American Dream. Those are part of Welfare State and you do not need to go to America to find them. Moreover, those are not a 'dream' but a 'right'. Good book all in all!
0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great service! 31 Jan 2013
By Mary C. Pettus - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Came promptly and was what I expected. Have not yet read it , but look forward to the read. Hope this is helpful.
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