The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation

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9780195158212: The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation
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"The American Dream" is one of the most familiar and resonant phrases in our national lexicon, so familiar that we seldom pause to ask its origin, its history, or what it actually means.
In this fascinating short history, Jim Cullen explores the meaning of the American Dream, or rather the several American Dreams that have both reflected and shaped American identity from the Pilgrims to the present. Cullen begins by noting that the United States, unlike most other nations, defines itself not on the facts of blood, religion, language, geography, or shared history, but on a set of ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and consolidated in the Constitution. At the core of these ideals lies the ambiguous but galvanizing concept of the American Dream, a concept that for better and worse has proven to be amazingly elastic and durable for hundreds of years and across racial, class, and other demographic lines. Cullen then traces a series of overlapping American dreams: the quest for of religious freedom that brought the Pilgrims to the "New World"; the political freedom promised in the Declaration; the dream of upward mobility, embodied most fully in the figure of Abraham Lincoln; the dream of home ownership, from homestead to suburb; the intensely idealistic--and largely unrealized--dream of equality articulated most vividly by Martin Luther King, Jr. The version of the American Dream that dominates our own time--what Cullen calls "the Dream of the Coast"--is one of personal fulfillment, of fame and fortune all the more alluring if achieved without obvious effort, which finds its most insidious expression in the culture of Hollywood.
For anyone seeking to understand a shifting but central idea in American history, The American Dream is an interpretive tour de force.

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About the Author:


Jim Cullen holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown University and teaches at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, in New York City. He is the author of Born in the U.S.A.: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition and The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past, among other books.

Review:


"One man's provocative, worthwhile, and stimulating summation."--Kirkus Reviews


"Cullen combs the riches of American history to analyze the American dream idea.... From these rich slices of American history, Cullen weaves a historical quilt illustrating key components of the idea.... This work combines the author's personal reflections with a cogent interpretation of American social and intellectual history."--Library Journal


"The American dream, as Jim Cullen shows in this useful, intelligent book, is more than a set of platitudes, and says something important about our national character."--The Boston Globe


"Its straightforward and engaging narrative style ought to appeal to general readers of American history, and its broader explorations of freedom, equality and shared ideals offers a nice dose of depth as well."--Publishers Weekly


"Jim Cullen's The American Dream is a tour de force through the whole of American history, from the Puritans to home ownership and California. Cullen daringly takes the notion of the American Dream as a touchstone for a huge swathe of American cultural history, and tracks its complexities, its shifts and conflicts--and unities. Gracefully written, elegantly unified, respectful toward disparate ideas, never indulgent of scholastic gobbledygook, the book has all the strength of its simplifications. A marvelous achievement." --Todd Gitlin


"Cullen is a master of the difficult art of distilling complex ideas without oversimplifying them. His grasp of American history is impressive, and his narrative is lucid, lively, and engaging. He has done an admirable job of summarizing, dramatizing, and giving a sense of personal urgency to successive versions of the American dream. I find the mixture of personal reflection and historical narrative quite effective and inviting. This is a refreshing, spirited book."--Andrew Delbanco


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