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Martin Dressler: The Tale of An American Dreamer

3.56  ·  Rating Details  ·  7,086 Ratings  ·  404 Reviews
Martin Dressler is the son of cigar maker, born in late nineteenth-century New York. As Martin approaches manhood, it is rapidly clear that his ambitions stretch far further than inheriting his father's shop, as he moves first to take a job in a hotel, then to open a restaurant, and rapidly ascends to become a builder of hotels of his own. He is a classic entrepreneur, a y ...more
Hardcover
Published March 9th 1998 by Phoenix House (first published March 25th 1996)
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Melki
Sep 11, 2015 Melki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one caught me by surprise . . .

Though it's not an action-packed page-turner, I was completely absorbed by this book.

Just read the author's description of New York City circa 1894:

. . . Martin lead the Vernon women down clattering station stairways to look at details: strips of sun and shadow rippling across a cabhorse's back under a curving El track, old steel rails glinting in the cobblestones. He bought them bags of hot peanuts from a peanut wagon with a steam whistle. He showed them Mo
...more
Chris
Nov 30, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A cautionary tale for ambitious people, because who likes ambitious people? Not me. I can best describe it as kind of like Atlas Shrugged, but you know, the complete opposite, so good. Also, it's short. So if you hated Atlas Shrugged—and there are plenty of reasons to hate Atlas Shrugged—you'll probably love Martin Dressler.

True story: I went out to eat at a restaurant in Brooklyn, The Dressler. I asked our waiter if the restaurant was named after this book. It turns out it was, indeed, named a
...more
Paul Bryant
Mar 24, 2011 Paul Bryant rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the author's immediate family
Shelves: novels
It's about work, and fairly unglamorous work at that, hotel construction and management. How dull is that? I'd say a reading of over 90 on the dullometer. But then the hotels which the hero builds get ever more elaborate and weirder and the book shimmies into magical realism which is a thing where you write about something blatantly impossible as if it's just boring and everyday and complete zoos on the 54th floor and an Arabian desert on the 70th floor is something an ambitious hotel entreprene ...more
Stephanie
Feb 24, 2011 Stephanie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer-prize
This book... no good. Once again I was lured by a Pulitzer Prize sticker that in the end left me wondering who exactly votes for these novels.

The description of New York City at the boom of its birth (late 1800s) was interesting but that's about it.

First, the story bothered me. Martin spends too much time trying to out-do his last feat. He also ends up marrying the wrong girl, which is very frustrating.

Second, his constant description of Caroline's hair pulled back tight against her head was b
...more
Moses Kilolo
Sep 21, 2012 Moses Kilolo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I once read somewhere that people err not for want of doing what is bad, but for misdirected want of what is good. Martin Dressler starts out as a simple young man with unquestionable intelligence and ambition, and perhaps a little luck. He rises step by step and watches his vision of making a big businessman, an hotel owner, of himself grow broader and broader. And in the process he makes the choice that most of us tend to find themselves making, loving the elusive, the difficult to attain and ...more
Nathan Hirstein
May 25, 2009 Nathan Hirstein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first time I picked this up I devoured it, like the meal you begin eating simply because it is placed before you, but which tastes so good you cannot stop until you have finished it. When I put the book down I had to spend several minutes trying to figure out where I was. As it turns out, I happened to be in a hotel room in Berlin, listening to the light-rail rattle by outside. I felt tired and confused and I wasn't sure what to do next.

Other reviewers have tried to make the case that this
...more
Jill
Feb 14, 2016 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So. Steven Millhauser sends your thoughts swirling, and he does it with perfectly transparent intent ----- you are not supposed to dissect a Millhauser piece. You're supposed to dance with it.

It baffles me that this novel won a Pulitzer. Not because it's not deserving -- I think it is -- but because it's so dreamily strange. It's hard, if not impossible, to pin down -- and I don't think trying to do so helps, actually. But, a few particularly salient thoughts that stuck out from the dreamswirl.
...more
Benjamin Obler
Dec 26, 2014 Benjamin Obler rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, novel
This was more than a disappointment. It was utterly confounding. I'm a fan of Millhauser's short stories. I have taught "Miracle Polish" in fiction workshops. Several of his story collections have delivered cover to cover. This novel though is a perplexing conception. It seems to be marketed as book in classic tradition, a story of American gusto, ingenuity, of an ethnic Brooklyn kid with smarts who makes something of himself. It seems in the beginning to tell the tale of the growth of Manhattan ...more
Vit Babenco
May 13, 2015 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Martin Dressler is a book about an American dream or, to be more precise, about a man dreaming a big American dream. Martin Dressler dreams to rival the God and to create his own perfect world within the world…
“Imagine two stones – gray, smooth, flattish: small enough to hold comfortably in your hand. There is nothing interesting about these stones. Now, imagine that I single out one of them. Either one will do. I describe the pleasing feel of the stone in my hand. I compare its color to the co
...more
Meri
Feb 18, 2009 Meri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, history
This story is about the quintessential concept that defines American culture: the American dream. Martin Dressler begins the book as a clerk in a cigar store in New York at the dawn of the 20th century. As he watches the city spring up around him, he's filled with ideas of his own on improving the landscape. He starts with a restaurant, which becomes a chain, then moves to hotels. Along the way, he picks up several consumer concepts that are in their infancy, like subliminal advertising campaign ...more
Jessica
Sep 05, 2007 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: new-york
I very much enjoyed this story of a poor boy who becomes a hotel entrepreneur in turn of the century New York, who dreams of a marvelous place where vistors can enter the building and experience otherworldly wonders. Like most fictional dreamers, he's ahead of his time, and his dream can't survive in his world.

Martin's fantasy of a place you can visit that takes you with a few easy steps from the world as you know it to any number of places around the world, under the sea, or in the heavens, was
...more
Louis
Dec 12, 2008 Louis rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a valuable lesson from this book: don't buy anything just because it won the Pulitzer Prize. I saw that little gold sticker on the cover of the paperback edition. The story sounded like an interesting take on the American drive to make things ever bigger and better. Maybe that's what Millhauser meant to do, but he got lost somewhere checking into the Grand Cosmopolitan or Grand Martini or whatever the name of that white elephant hotel was. Endless pages of lists and dull people doing.. ...more
Amanda Trosten-bloom
This 25 year old novel won the Pulitzer Prize, and it took me awhile to figure out why. The characters and the writing style are rather stiff and one-sided; but as I finished it up, I realized it was an allegory about The American Dream (which is, of course, the subtitle - "The Tale of an American Dreamer.") There's rich, over-the-top detail about the principal character's architectural and business ventures - so detailed, in fact, that I briefly wondered if it was semi-historical. (In fact, I'd ...more
Tony
Millhauser, Steven. MARTIN DRESSLER: The Tale of an American Dreamer. (1996). ***. After having read a couple of books by this author, I was eagerly looking forward to reading this one – his Pulitzer Prize winner. I was disappointed. Although well-written, the plot was humdrum and uninspired. Martin Dressler, the hero, grew up helping his father in his cigar store in NYC. He gets a chance to move out of the store into a hotel, where he starts out as a bellboy, but rapidly moves up in rank until ...more
Kathryn
I had no clue it would take me no time to read this book, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1997; but reading it puts one into a dreamlike state, perfectly in keeping with the fabulous (in many meanings of the term) story of this book. And, having just finished reading it, I may still be in a dream giving a report of it, which may be just fine. (A good book, and quite readable, but a deep book, with subterranean levels.)

The book tells the story of Martin Dressler, born in New York City
...more
Tuck
Jul 03, 2012 Tuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pre-wwi
a pre wwi novel set in new york city, where the titular martin strives to achieve his dreams....of what? being a rich business man? no, not really. being a hotel builder and owner? no, not really. having a family and enjoying his friends and loved ones? no, not really.
what does martin want? what he gets is a feeling that he has luck and that this force of good is directing his steps to maximize modern inventions but hidden behind facades of classicism to build bigger and bigger "skyscrapers" in
...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
The reason why this was on my shelf is that it was an assigned textin one of my English courses at uni. I don't remember which one, which is a shame, because that might have given me an idea of how to read it. I mean, having read it now (obviously I never did for the class!), I really want to know why it was included. I'd also like to know what was passed over the year this won the Pulitzer - was it like a typical Oscars night, the choices a bit thin so Shakespeare in Love wins? (Am I the only ...more
Tuckova
Feb 06, 2011 Tuckova rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
I loved the early descriptions of New York. The writing style was lovely and prosey and I felt it suited the descriptions and the feelings of a growing economy, changing times, entrepreneurial spirit, etc. I was quite pleased with the first half of the book. I hated the passages with the wife, and as they increased my irritation with the main character also grew. Eventually I found him irritating as hell. Then we sort of veered into magic realism, which is not my strong point. While his dreams w ...more
Brent Legault
I bet if I bothered to uproot every review of this novel that the word magical would appear several times in every one of them. That's because Martin Dressler is a fairy tale. And I don't like fairy tales. Because they're composed of smushy-gushy dreamy-creamy language that I do not brook. And this fairy tale, being a very long fairy tale as fairy tales go, has even more of that sort of mushery than most. Nearly every sentence wants to enchant or enrapture the poor, bored reader. And there are t ...more
Sean Gainford
Boring

I'm so bored with this book. I'm so bored that I don't even want to go back to it to see why it was so boring for this review. I just want to start reading another book. But just quickly: a lot of talking about the mundane in a mundane way; there is a lot of detail in this book but not really any telling detail; main character seems two dimensional, and so do the rest; the narration seems very distant from the story and doesn't involve the reader's imagination. I think this novel would hav
...more
Dan
Nov 02, 2014 Dan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The experience of reading this book, was one of the more tedious reading experiences I've had in some time. Millhauser has a simple and enjoyable writing style and the book reads like a page-turner, but the problem is, you don't want to turn the pages. Until the very end of the book there's virtually no conflict, you just sit there and watch Dressler became more and more unstuck from reality and more and more lost in his dreams. It's linear, predictable, and boring.
Hà Nguyễn
Apr 02, 2016 Hà Nguyễn rated it really liked it  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-books
One of books to read, re-read and re-read again.
Oscar
Como ya dije en su momento en la reseña de 'Risas peligrosas', Millhauser es un escritor esquivo, que huye tanto del éxito como del fracaso. Con 'Martin Dressler. Historia de un soñador americano' obtuvo el Premio Pulitzer en 1997, algo que parece no haber influido en la vida de Millhauser, que ya veía reconocida su obra por la crítica especializada. Con todo lo que se publica en este país, es una pena que escritores de su talla, y en concreto de novelas como 'Martin Dressler', pasen de puntilla ...more
Adriane Devries
Jul 25, 2011 Adriane Devries rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Martin Dressler portrays the American consciousness in early 20th century New York City through the life of its protagonist. Raised in humble circumstances as an apprentice in his father’s cigar shop, Martin realizes he has ambitions and dreams of his own, setting him off on an inexorable quest to become uniquely himself through business and architectural feats of wonder. His extraordinary vision drives him always to pursue the next great thing, leaving in his wake ...more
Emma
Gosh, what an odd book. It's really like a long exercise in creating a metaphor for the overexuberant capitalism of the turn of last century, and its ultimate vacuity.

*some vague spoilers*

The first half of the book I really enjoyed, but once the Vernon sisters entered I felt things went downhill. (Does this mean I have stomach only for rise, and not fall? I don't know). And I had existential panic during some of the longer passages about the thematic follies in his hotels, pages of research-des
...more
Joseph Dunn
An extremely disappointing Pulizer winner. I'm almost inclined to rate this lower than two stars, but the sheer imagination and fantastic dreamlike vision save it from utter failure.



I had issues with the writing. It was painfully generic and uninspiring. The superfluous descriptions of monotony never ended. It was narrated from too far of a distance. This helped give it the fairy tale, once upon a time, dreamy feel but It really detracted from character development. Years would pass in the turn
...more
Jeffrey Chao
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Grace
Jul 18, 2010 Grace rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The premise of the story is promising: a young boy born into a working class family gets lucky break after lucky break, and on top of his natural knack for business, he becomes a successful business owner of several cafes and hotels. Each one of these places was more grand than the next. Never being completely satisfied, Dressler tries to make the biggest dream possible: a city within a city.

It could have been dynamic and interesting. Instead, this book was not really that good. The characters
...more
Suzanne
Jun 05, 2012 Suzanne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a chore to get through. Had to read it for Book Club, and although the first 50 pages or so were interesting (the author is very good at describing NYC in the late 1800s/early 1900s) - the plot defined the characters - Martin wasn't real to me - he was a fantasy character with nothing to empathize with. Of the 6 at book club, only 1 person liked it, and she listened to the book while walking her dog, so the pages of description didn't bog her down.
The whole agonizing process of whi
...more
Kate
Nov 07, 2010 Kate rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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“Martin got up and brushed off the seat of his pants with his hat. He put his hat on his head and started back toward the path. For when you woke from a long dream, into the new morning, then try as you might you couldn't not hear, beyond your door, the sounds of the new day, the drawer opening in your father's bureau, the bang of a pot, you couldn't not see, through your trembling lashes, the stripe of light on the bedroom wall. Boys shouted in the park, on a sunny tree-root he saw a cigar band, red and gold. One of these days he might find something to do in a cigar store, after all he still knew his tobacco, you never forgot a thing like that. But not just yet. Boats moved on the river, somewhere a car horn sounded, on the path a piece of broken glass glowed in a patch of sun as if at any second it would burst into flame. Everything stood out sharply: the red stem of a green leaf, horse clops and the distant clatter of a pneumatic drill, a smell of riverwater and asphalt. Martin felt hungry: chops and beer in a little he remembered on Columbus Avenue. But not yet. For the time being he would just walk along, keeping a little out of the way of things, admiring the view. It was a warm day. He was in no hurry.” 2 likes
“Do you believe that the actor on the stage is really a villain? Let me ask you something else. If he isn't a villain, then is he a liar?” 2 likes
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