Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt” as Want to Read:
American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt

3.08  ·  Rating Details ·  39 Ratings  ·  13 Reviews
Here is an animated and wonderfully engaging work of cultural history that lays out America’s unruly past by describing the ways in which cutting loose has always been, and still is, an essential part of what it means to be an American.

From the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Americans have defied their stodgy rules and hierarchies with pranks, dances, stunts, a
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2014)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about American Fun, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about American Fun

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Apr 19, 2014 Emily marked it as set-aside
This isn't a real review of this book, which I intentionally only read one chapter out of, but I have to tell this true story even though I'll probably get some of the details wrong.

In the mid '60s, one of my uncles with some other teenagers, I think including the family's Swedish exchange student, decided to put up a large billboard on a busy road on the stodgy Main Line, which would read "MOST CHILDREN ARE CAUSED BY ACCIDENTS IN THE HOME." According to family lore, my grandfather found out ab
Aug 03, 2016 Mark rated it liked it
Shelves: history
While this books covers an awful lot of ground I am going to punk the author for overlooking something I think is important, and I am sure, that the author (as a "teacher of history at the US Naval Academy") does not. He delves into America's cultural periods and more or less draws defining lines, events, lives, and trends. But once he gets to the 1960's he takes a big "duh" pill. While earnestly covering the Acid Tests an Ken Kesey's contributions to "American fun' he overlooks the longtime sur ...more
Apr 16, 2014 Joanie rated it really liked it
Beckman clearly believes that subversive fun, while serving a necessary political outcry, is in fact "all in good fun" event hat which was violent against women and minorities and damaging to persons and property. He touts this element of danger and destruction as essential to true fun- that fun in the American sense really has to be on the fringes of legality, if not downright illegal.

His heroes are typically bad influences, whose political and social statements seem (to me anyway) to be a ran
Michael Brockley
May 06, 2014 Michael Brockley rated it really liked it
From Merry Mount to Burning Man, AMERICAN FUN takes the reader on a roller-coaster history of Americans, whether they be consumers, activists or partiers, having fun. The 20s and the 60s were the funnest decades and authority figures have always lurked in the shadows, eager to make corporations people or commercialize rock' n roll, but the American people have learned that laughing, in any era and in the face if any stuff shirt, is part of the responsibility of a citizen.
victor harris
Oct 07, 2014 victor harris rated it it was ok
Stretches the definition of fun to include political protests. Has some strong sections, particularly on the early conceptions of fun in the colonial period. Also some interesting commentary on the 1920s. Overall not much fun to read, very clinical analysis of the topic in an almost textbook style that is in need of editing.
Jan 15, 2015 Kuva rated it liked it
Enjoyable and entertaining to read, but I think because the scope is so big a lot of the nuance gets lost. And the author can be very judgmental arbitrarily, i.e. he really condemns tv and especially video games. This is an okay survey of American pop culture/recreation/leisure, but if any parts of it particularly interest you, it's worth it to go to his sources and dig deeper.
May 29, 2014 Matthew rated it really liked it
A bit of a slog at times, but some useful ideas in here, and a perspective particularly on twentieth-century popular culture that I hadn't considered before. I like Beckman's distinction between "fun" and "entertainment," although I don't know that "fun" must be necessarily subversive.
Oct 05, 2014 Jamie rated it liked it
Recommended to Jamie by: Washington Post
Shelves: adult, nonfiction
Some good stuff in here, but mostly the author bit off a bit more than he could/should chew. A more detailed story about just some of this might have made a better read.
Alex Scroxton
Apr 04, 2016 Alex Scroxton rated it liked it
Very dry, heavy and worthy. I was interested, learned a lot, and hugely enjoyed it, but ironically it wasn't much *fun* to read.
Mary Ann
Sep 27, 2015 Mary Ann rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Meghann rated it it was ok
Jun 24, 2016
Mike Nescot
Mike Nescot rated it really liked it
Aug 03, 2014
T.G. Deitman
T.G. Deitman rated it really liked it
Aug 16, 2014
Dave Walker
Dave Walker rated it really liked it
May 03, 2016
Apr 17, 2014 Rose rated it did not like it
Danielle Foxhoven
Danielle Foxhoven rated it really liked it
Aug 15, 2014
Angela Woodward
Angela Woodward rated it it was amazing
Jan 15, 2016
ann beckman
ann beckman rated it it was amazing
Nov 26, 2015
Martha rated it liked it
Aug 14, 2015
Steven rated it it was ok
May 05, 2015
Bambi Rosario-wyatt
Bambi Rosario-wyatt rated it really liked it
Aug 31, 2014
Gary rated it liked it
Mar 07, 2015
Jennifer rated it it was ok
Aug 26, 2014
Stevanne Auerbach
Stevanne Auerbach rated it liked it
Sep 05, 2014
Nick Smith
Nick Smith rated it it was ok
Oct 28, 2015
Jun 13, 2014 Lisa added it
only got so far and had to set it aside...long read
Cody Mclaughlin
Cody Mclaughlin rated it did not like it
Dec 17, 2015
Steven rated it really liked it
Jan 24, 2016
Marc rated it liked it
Aug 09, 2014
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Share This Book

“But it isn’t the fun of DIY invention, urban exploration, physical danger, and civil disorder that the Z-Boys enjoyed in 1976. It is fun within serious limits, and for all of its thrills it is (by contrast) scripted. And rather obedient. The fact that there are public skateparks and high-performance skateboards signals progress: America has embraced this sport, as it did bicycles in the nineteenth century. Towns want to make skating safe and acceptable. The economy has more opportunity to grow. America is better off for all of this. Yet such government and commercial intervention in a sport that was born of radical liberty means that the fun itself has changed; it has become mediated. For the skaters who take pride in their flashy store-bought equipment have already missed the Z-Boys’ joke: Skating is a guerrilla activity. It’s the fun of beating, not supporting, the system. P. T. Barnum said it himself: all of business is humbug. How else could business turn a profit, if it didn’t trick you with advertising? If it didn’t hook you with its product? This particular brand of humbug was perfected in the late 1960s, when merchandise was developed and marketed and sold to make Americans feel like rebels. Now, as then, customers always pay for this privilege, and purveyors keep it safe (and generally clean) to curb their liability. They can’t afford customers taking real risks. Plus it’s bad for business to encourage real rebellion. And yet, marketers know Americans love fun—they have known this for centuries. And they know that Americans, especially kids, crave autonomy and participation, so they simulate the DIY experience at franchises like the Build-A-Bear “workshops,” where kids construct teddy bears from limited options, or “DIY” restaurants, where customers pay to grill their own steaks, fry their own pancakes, make their own Bloody Marys. These pay-to-play stores and restaurants are, in a sense, more active, more “fun,” than their traditional competition: that’s their big selling point. But in both cases (as Barnum knew) the joke is still on you: the personalized bear is a standardized mishmash, the personalized food is often inedible. As Las Vegas knows, the house always wins. In the history of radical American fun, pleasure comes from resistance, risk, and participation—the same virtues celebrated in the “Port Huron Statement” and the Digger Papers, in the flapper’s slang and the Pinkster Ode. In the history of commercial amusement, most pleasures for sale are by necessity passive. They curtail creativity and they limit participation (as they do, say, in a laser-tag arena) to a narrow range of calculated surprises, often amplified by dazzling technology. To this extent, TV and computer screens, from the tiny to the colossal, have become the scourge of American fun. The ubiquity of TV screens in public spaces (even in taxicabs and elevators) shows that such viewing isn’t amusement at all but rather an aggressive, ubiquitous distraction. Although a punky insurgency of heedless satire has stung the airwaves in recent decades—from equal-opportunity offenders like The Simpsons and South Park to Comedy Central’s rabble-rousing pundits, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert—the prevailing “fun” of commercial amusement puts minimal demands on citizens, besides their time and money. TV’s inherent ease seems to be its appeal, but it also sends a sobering, Jumbotron-sized message about the health of the public sphere.” 0 likes
More quotes…