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Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture
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Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  74 ratings  ·  8 reviews
In this ground-breaking, panoramic work of American cultural history, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Michael Kammen examines a central paradox of our national identity: How did "the land of the future" acquire a past? And to what extent has our collective memory of that past, as embodied in our traditions, been distorted, or even manufactured?

Ranging from John Adams to
Paperback, 1st Vintage Books edition, 877 pages
Published February 1993 by Vintage Books (first published 1991)
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Jonathan Hedgpeth
This is an exceptional work. I got through all 704 pages in roughly a month's time. I took away one star from my review for Kammen's frequently challenging narrative style--but when he hits one home, boy does he ever knock it way out of the park. The book is full of valuable nuggets about cultural construction and the use of/prevalence of myth in American society. The gleaning of salient points from the storied lives of individuals such as Bernard DeVoto, Zora Neale Hurston, Edith Halpert, Allen ...more
The most overused word in the history of book reviewing-- "magisterial"-- suggests an epic scale and a vast depth of learning. It can also suggest an unending tangle of painstakingly ordered facts.

In Mystic Chords, Kammen trots out enough learning about the history of history to give an Oxford don heartburn. Truly magisterial, like a shelf filled with old law books. Wearying details about the commencement speeches at famous monuments and historical societies seem to swirl whirl around the vague
Robert Ripson
Exceptional account of how America has learned to have a memory. A memory of tradition, myths, and even symbolic notions of what it means to be an American.
Kammen is an able writer on the topic of the creation of cultural democracy. This book sheds light on that mystery on how to democratize democracy if you will so that it is culturally present. It is a good read and one that enables the seeing of the monuments as deliberate stone built testaments to an ongoing act of a creative experiment in the visual and sociological landscape. Interesting book.
Michael Greening
There is something about this book that is marvelous. Not sure if it lies in the connection of public memory and various cultural developments in American history, or the (some might say over-) comprehensive nature of Kammen's writing, or maybe his erudition...whatever the reason, it is a compelling read.
Jennifer Jones Barbour
This is a great read for anyone interested in public memory and American history. Kammen is exhaustive in his examples, so be prepared to read not just one or two pieces of data to support his claims, instead it is more like five or six or seven or...
A bit too long (700+ pages), but it's an interesting overview of how traditions were created and recreated in American history.
I had to re-read this for an article's OK.
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Michael Gedaliah Kammen was a professor of American cultural history at Cornell University. He won the Pulitzer Prize (History, 1973) for his book, People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization.
More about Michael Kammen...
Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture The Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization (Cornell Paperbacks) Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century

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