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

3.44  ·  Rating Details ·  141 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
"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 t ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 14th 2004 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2003)
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Jonathan
Aug 21, 2013 Jonathan rated it it was amazing

Dreaming up America

History is a fascinating area of study, although it is often too much divorced from the literature and established media created in its specific sectors. The most fascinating aspect to history to my mind is how history reflects upon the here and now - that like quality literature it reflects upon humanity. There are some who would argue that history is water under the bridge - to use an idiomatic phrase - and yet why is it that in our modern times we so often find ourselves re
...more
Steven
Nov 20, 2015 Steven rated it liked it
As the subtitle suggests this book is the history of an idea and Cullen traces the idea of the American Dream from the Puritans to Hollywood. In the process he delves into American history that is at once familiar and yet obscure because it is being viewed through the lens of this particular idea. And here is Cullen summing things up:
What makes the American Dream American is not that our dreams are any better, worse, or more interesting than anyone else's, but that we live in a country constitut
...more
Lindsey
Aug 02, 2012 Lindsey rated it liked it
An interesting look at the history of American thought, especially regarding the American dream. It was nice to see someone actually look at the idea that the dream is often holding us back through our dedication to possible advancement. We get so caught up in the possibility that we might eventually maybe get somewhere that we don't allow for anything to change. We want to protect the status quo that favors those who got ahead because we might be able to get ahead. It was interesting to see the ...more
Nordy
Jan 01, 2013 Nordy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: American Lit/US History Teachers
Any American Lit/US History teachers should read this book. It breaks down the evolution of the American Dream. I could see this as summer reading for APUSH and I plan on using the chapters about upward mobility with Gatsby. Non-AP classes might have a hard time reading an entire chapter, but selections would help clarify the concept of the "American Dream" and pair well with Raisin in the Sun, Grapes of Wrath, etc.
Corrielle
May 31, 2014 Corrielle rated it really liked it
I ran across a reference to this book while doing research on Death of a Salesman, and now having read the whole thing, let's just say I'm going to fundamentally alter how I teach that play to include some of the ideas Cullen brings together in this book. I found it to be a very readable examination of a phrase that gets thrown around a lot without much thought. Cullen seems divides the book into chapters that discuss the historical roots of different versions of "The American Dream," and at the ...more
Hana Jay
Jul 15, 2012 Hana Jay rated it it was amazing
The author of "The American Dream" starts with Puritan's ideals that shaped the American way of thinking. It continues with the Declaration of Independence that brought America's freedom from Britain, how Abraham Lincoln persisted on making the south free, so the white people could prosper from hard work, and goes further on how Martin Luther King Jr. finally made Afro-Americans equal in their freedom.

The Dream is wrapped in two more parts: the ownership of houses and in the Golden State, both
...more
Tim
Nov 16, 2013 Tim rated it really liked it
2013 - Excellent on rereading. Not a comprehensive vision of the term, but a wonderful engagement with particular times (from Puritans through the movement West) and ideas (including race and home ownership). Great essays.

Just looked over this again (6/2011) - an overview that hits high points from the Puritans (for whom he is apologetically favorable) to the Declaration of Independence to upward mobility and home ownership, equality and race, and finally the vision of the easy life measured by
...more
Caroline
Apr 19, 2015 Caroline rated it really liked it
Detailed enough to break down the history of the American Dream into its most important eras but concise enough to read quickly, this book pinpointed the major changes to the Dream and chronicled the major events that changed the Dream into what it is today. I personally enjoyed reading about the history of the Dream, a topic few people seem to tackle in online articles or history websites. It certainly saved my paper.
Jen
May 13, 2009 Jen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-politics
Sometime during the election season, I asked some friends "What does the phrase 'The American Dream' even MEAN?" No one really had an answer . . . so I was excited to find this book! (Yes, I'm a dork.)

This book's 6 chapters trace the origins and development of the American Dream:

1. Dream of the Good Life (I) The Puritan Enterprise
2. Dream Charter: The Declaration of Independence
3. Dream of the Good Life (II): Upward mobility
4. King of America: The Dream of Equality
5. Detached Houses: The Dream o
...more
LSC-University Park SLRC
Apr 07, 2016 LSC-University Park SLRC marked it as recently-added-ebooks
Available through Lone Star College EBSCO Ebook Collection.
Castille
Feb 17, 2014 Castille rated it liked it
Not written in the most interesting manner, but it presents some great ideas.
Sarah Hayter
Oct 21, 2014 Sarah Hayter rated it it was ok
Incredibly boring, but it was intelligent.
Janet
Jul 14, 2013 Janet rated it it was ok
It was an ok book. If you like history than you might love this book but I personally hate history and did not enjoy reading this book. I would get through 2 pages and fall asleep, literally. It only has 6 chapters but they are quite lengthy. The last 2 chapters were alright. I'm guessing because the author talked more about the modern day events.
Samantha Bower
Dec 04, 2012 Samantha Bower rated it liked it
This was to support my research for my thesis on the Great Gatsby. It was helpful, but a bit repetitive for such a short book.
Cullen did a great job presenting his information on the American Dream in an organized and accessible manner.
Michal
Jun 23, 2012 Michal rated it it was amazing
Excellent book - a a good and easy read for anyone wanting a better understanding of American politics and economics, through a historical lens
Cor
Jun 24, 2012 Cor rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Sampled on Kindle, not worth the time.
Disjointed and not very critical or scholarly. Not what I was expecting.
Rasma
Feb 20, 2013 Rasma rated it it was amazing
Highly intelligent yet accessible, even to one who avoided (by hook or crook) history in high school.
naseer yahya
May 06, 2007 naseer yahya rated it really liked it
ill fill this in next week iA
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“FEW PEOPLE in American history have been as consistently disliked as the Puritans.” 1 likes
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