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American Studies

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  199 Ratings  ·  18 Reviews
At each step of this journey through American cultural history, Louis Menand has an original point to make: he explains the real significance of William James's nervous breakdown, and of the anti-Semitism in T. S. Eliot's writing. He reveals the reasons for the remarkable commercial successes of William Shawn's New Yorker and William Paley's CBS. He uncovers the connection ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 1st 2003 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2002)
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Modern Hermeneut
Jun 27, 2010 Modern Hermeneut rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
For my money, the pieces on William James and the 1960s are the two crown jewels of this collection, but there are some other treasures, as well. These include a fond memoriam to Pauline Kael and a dissection of Larry Flynt’s life and legacy.

Menand is staggeringly learned and even more staggeringly incisive. But it’s refreshing to note that he’s not perfect. He has, for example, a bothersome habit of starting sentences – or even whole new paragraphs – with “So that….” I’m not familiar with the p
Jan 31, 2017 Rob rated it it was ok
A good (but very uneven) collection of essays on literary and cultural figures and some hitherto ignored facet of their character. I really like Menand's writing style, but found little connecting thread between the essays to follow - making their collection into a book a little questionable to me.
Dec 08, 2007 Scott rated it really liked it
I always come away feeling a little smarter (not that it takes much) after reading Menand, because, in explaining the cultural significance of people or events, he reveals connections and relationships that aren't necessarily obvious. To me, anyway. Like, that a guy who played a big role in dropping the atomic bombs in WW2 also is the father of the SAT test.

Or in other cases, you get the story behind the story. Everyone knows rock music has been used to sell products for years. In Menand's essay
May 15, 2010 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
Given how much I normally enjoy Menand's articles in The New Yorker and elsewhere, I was surprised by how uneven I found this collection. In particular, many of the early essays (concerning historical personages) dragged and left me entirely uninterested in the people they described (if possible, less interested than I was prior to having read them). His bits on The New Yorker's history as well as his profiles of some of its most notable writers (e.g. Pauline Kael) are, on the other hand, charmi ...more
"[Pauline] Kael never gave anyone credit for good intentions. “Art,” as she put it back in 1956, “perhaps unfortunately, is not the sphere of good intentions.” She wasn’t interested in abstractions like “social significance” or “the body of work.” She had to be turned on all over again each time. Her favorite analogy for the movie experience got seriously overworked, and was lampooned as a result, but it ddoes have the virtue of simplicity: a movie, for her, was either good sex or bad sex. For t ...more
Oct 25, 2007 SVG rated it really liked it
menand's "american studies" is a collection of several of his new yorker essays greatly in need of sequels--not for what they lack, but for what many essayists lack: profundity.

menand's talent is in the way he perfectly describes american culture and thought without addressing it directly. with well-crafted, glancing blows, menand creates an image of the US by both building and subtracting from an abstract form called "Americana."
Oct 02, 2007 Tom rated it liked it
This collection of essays (some of which appeared in the New Yorker) is hit-and-miss. The entries on William Paley, Richard Wright, Larry Flynt and the New Yorker itself interesting and well-contextualized. Some of the others though: particularly the essay on Oliver Wendell Holmes, I found irritating, even glib.
Oct 11, 2007 Tech rated it liked it
Recommends it for: literary types, pop culture types, new yorker readers
A quality read by a brilliant guy, Louis Menand. The reason why I picked up the book ended up being the same reason why I wasn't so compelled by it. I took a class with Menand on the art/thought of the Cold War, so it was redundant for me. But his writing is as pithy, clever, insightful, and original as ever.
Oct 02, 2007 Pat rated it liked it
A fan of Menand's writings in the New Yorker, I had gone into the bookstore looking for The Metaphysical Club but wound up with this instead. It was a good, but dense read across diverse and somewhat random subject matter. Having finished it, here's the thing that sticks in my mind: Native Son author Richard Wright wrote over 4,000 haiku. And he was a Nietzchean. Must have been some haiku.
May 15, 2016 Eileen rated it really liked it
Shelves: misc
I've written about a couple of the essays here and here.
Dec 22, 2010 Bob rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I listened to this book on several short trips. It is a series of essays about Americans who have made significant contributions to American culture. (Some good, some not so good). The analysis that the author takes is, In some cases, unique. Very thought provoking.
Jul 01, 2009 David rated it it was amazing
Even though I skipped the law bits: this cat can write! Even if I didn't care about tort reform, I liked how he walked us through his massive and obscure bibliography.
Aug 26, 2010 Tuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
essays on pauline kael, oliver wendell holmes, al gore (via 2002? oh, it is just sickening), maya lin. very good writer and analysis.
Apr 10, 2012 Lauren rated it really liked it
This guy can WRITE. The collection was a little uneven, but the pieces that are strong carry it. I especially loved the piece on Al Gore and Rolling Stone/the 1960s.
Jul 27, 2010 Richard rated it really liked it
Great analysis of Norman Mailer and William James. The chapter on Al Gore, written in 1998, is painful to read with 2010's perspective.
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Jan 21, 2008
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Louis Menand, professor of English at Harvard University, is the author of The Metaphysical Club, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in History. A longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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