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U.S.A. (Twentieth Century Classics) [Paperback]

John Dos Passos
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Mar 1991 Twentieth Century Classics
The author uses "camera eye" and "newsreel" sections to create a fragmented yet naturalistic atmosphere. The testimony of the numerous characters, both fictional and historical, gradually builds up a composite picture of American society in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Product details

  • Paperback: 1184 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (28 Mar 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140180516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140180510
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 5.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,042,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Summation of Early 20th Century American Life. 30 Aug 2003
This is a huge book (made up of three smaller books), and a huge achievement. Unfairly overlooked nowadays, John Dos Passos's novel is well worth your time.
The three novels here make up one large whole. The book is made up of stories following the lives of various characters from all walks of life. Their lives sometimes intersect, sometimes get better, sometimes get worse and even sometimes end.
In between these stories are shorter experimental pieces: 'The Camera Eye', which is Whitman-esque description of scenes; 'Newsreel' which is a collage of headlines and journalism, to give an idea of the events that are going by as the novel progresses; and Biographies of famous people of the times, millionaires (eg Hearst, Carnegie), creative people (eg Edison, Lloyd Wright), activists (Eugene Debs, Joe Hill), and many others. The biographical sections are very impressive. Done in a style that is half poem, half telegram, they concisely and accurately sum up famous personages, some you will have heard of, some you won't.
As the novels goes by, you are completely transported into the early 20th Century. Dos Passos is very critical of modern life here; he seems to feel that the modern system that is being put in place will not make anyone particularly happy. This is not to say that the book is depressing, but it is convincingly realistic, which is not always pretty.
The book ends with the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, which the author depicts as the event that should spark a revolution. This is incendiary stuff - but Dos Passos makes a good case. His politics are not thrust down your throat. It's more a case of showing than telling.
Sacco and Vanzetti are probably as forgotten today as the novel U.S.A. is. A read of this novel could make you think both deserve wider recognition. If you want to immerse yourself in another time, and learn a little along the way - or if you simply want an entertaining read - this is the book for you.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest novel of the 20th Century? 4 April 2002
By Jason Parkes #1 HALL OF FAME
'USA' is one of the greatest works of fiction of the 20th Century- a sprawling piece of American Modernism. William Burroughs felt that along with 'The Sheltering Sky' (Paul Bowles) & 'The Wasteland' it developed the 'cut-up' technique before he coined it with Brion Gysin...Joycean-academic & late,great novelist Anthony Burgess saw it as doing similarly great things with language & speech as 'Ulysees'- drawing a comparison between it, Joyce's masterpiece & Hubert Selby Jr's 'Last Exit to Brooklyn'...The three novels collected here...are 'The Big Money', 'The 42nd Parallel' & '1919'- & are puntuated with 'newsreel' & 'camera eye' sections- which serve as an interlude & provide a removed perspective from the shifting collection of protaganists we meet on the way...Anyone who has enjoyed Don DeLillo's 'Underworld' should love this book- in many ways DeLillo's vast work is a successor to Dos Passos' tome.Other books it is not dissimilar to include 'Earthly Powers', 'The Adventures of Augie March' & aspects of Jack Keroauc..I am told that 'Manhattan Transfer' is very good- & it is the place where Dos Passos developed his style, so you might want to read that first...However, I'd just dive in to this vast,riveting work- it is one that you could read fast (& want to re-read ASAP) or one that you can savour over time- like 'The Alexandria Quartet' or 'Remembrance of Things Past'...'USA' is a brilliant book- don't be put off by its size. I believe it is a contender for the greatest novel of the 20th Century.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is THE American novel. 21 April 2002
By Jason Parkes #1 HALL OF FAME
'USA' is, in my opinion, the greatest book that America produced during the 20th Century. It is in fact three novels- 'The Big Money', '1919' & 'The 42nd Parallel'. All are linked by the 'camera eye' and 'newsreel' sections- which should go down well with those who liked texts like 'The Wasteland', 'The Wild Boys' and 'Ulysses'. Though I think this book is a lot more approachable than much of Joyce and Woolf's major works. It would also be popular with those who like the sweeping panorama of America- the obvious Keroauc texts, Saul Bellow's 'The Adventures of Augie March' and Don DeLillo's 'Underworld'.
The language is brilliantly written- the characters who we pass through, as they pass through America tell us as much-if not more than- as history books. The baggy concept of the 'American Dream'- which one assumes is the ability to rise through the classes and to gain power & wealth through capitalist individualism or a fruitful marriage- is found in this book...Don't be put off by its size- it is a book you can read at whatever pace you like- read each novel seperately or take in the complete work.
I think 'USA' is a masterpiece and one that I would present as THE American novel...I would even present it as a contender for the best novel of the 20th Century. Yes, it's that good...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as daunting as you might expect 5 Nov 2012
By Guy
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Dos Passos (with these novels in particular) sometimes has a reputation for being difficult. It's certainly true that his style of jumbling long stretches of character biography alongside shorter pieces and sections of news headlines, song-lyrics, etcetera, can be disorienting at first, but once you get used to the scrapbook effect it produces, it makes a lot of sense.

Most of the book is taken up with the narratives of individual characters' lives. It's hard to describe a plot, as the book follows one character for maybe a few dozen pages, maybe hundreds, before switching to another character, perhaps to return later on (some characters recur, some appear once and then disappear again). What links all of the characters is that they are Americans living their lives in the early 20th Century. beyond that there's a huge variety: some are tremendously successful, some lead hard, directionless, arguably meaningless lives. What Dos Passos does is to accord all of them the respect of his narrative. He follows bums and itinerant workers with the same eye he follows businessmen and artists. The end result is a kaleidoscopic vision of early 20th Century America.

If you're a bit worried about the commitment (this is a long, long book), I'd encourage you to try reading the novels separately and see how you go. They were originally published as three medium-length stand alone novels, and taking a breather between installments certainly helped me get through. In the end, it's well worth it to experience an incredible period through Dos Passos's impressionistic, shifting, but always lucid stories.
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