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Wisconsin Death Trip.

LESY, Michael.

1,332 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0394709624 / ISBN 13: 9780394709628
Published by Pantheon Books [1973], New York, 1973
Soft cover
From Main Street Fine Books & Mss, ABAA (Galena, IL, U.S.A.)

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About this Item

Wide 8vo. Stiff glazed pictorial wrappers. (Ca. 200pp). Extensive illustrations. Very good. Faint edgewear. Tight and attractive second printing of this cult classic, a bizarre gathering of small town Wisconsin photographs taken by Charles Van Schaick between 1885 and 1900. Bookseller Inventory # 41153

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Wisconsin Death Trip.

Publisher: Pantheon Books [1973], New York

Publication Date: 1973

Binding: Paperback

About this title

Synopsis:

Gathers together excerpts from the Wisconsin "Badger State Banner" between 1885 and 1990, and photographs from the same period.

Review:

The last decade of the 19th century was, for some Americans, a time when great fortunes were to be made. For many others, however, the period was a time of economic dislocation, when the gap between city and countryside, rich and poor, grew ever wider. As the Indian Wars ended and the Gilded Age extended into America's first Imperial Age, social critics such as Mark Twain and William Dean Howells began to examine the dark side of the American dream: violence, poverty, degenerate behavior, suicide, and insanity.

In the late 1960s, another desperate time, historian Michael Lesy took a long look at fin-de-siècle America. Examining a collection of several thousand glass plate negatives and historical documents from Jackson County, Wisconsin, he concocted a sprawling treatise on a past that had been willfully forgotten, a brooding rejoinder to Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology. First published in 1973, Lesy's Wisconsin Death Trip, now reissued in a handsome paperbound edition, became a key text of the counterculture, a book to shelve alongside Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Custer Died for Your Sins--and it sometimes reads like a hip product of its time. Lesy documents the unsettling record of one small corner of rural America, turning up accounts of barn burnings, attacks by gangs of armed tramps, threatening and obscene letters, death by diphtheria and smallpox (the Wisconsin townsfolk had, some years, to attend several funerals a week), alcoholism, madness, business and bank failures, and even a case or two of witchcraft.

After reading Lesy's texts and viewing the sometimes unsettling images he's turned up, you would be forgiven for thinking that no one in small-town Wisconsin in our great-great-grandparents' time was well-adjusted--which is, of course, not the case. Hyperbole notwithstanding, this is a remarkable study, one that Lesy himself rightly calls an experiment in both history and alchemy. --Gregory McNamee

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