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American Notes

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  349 ratings  ·  59 reviews
So wrote an exuberant Dickens shortly before his voyage to America in 1842. He was the most famous of many travellers of his time who journeyed to the New World, curious to find out about the revolutionary new civilization which had captured the English imagination. His frank, often humorous descriptions cover everything from his comically uncomfortable sea voyage to his w...more
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Published January 1st 2010 by MobileReference (first published 1842)
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Genia Lukin
Charles Dickens, in my opinion, is a severely overrated, rather self-important and self-righteous bore. So I don't like most of this books.

This time, though, while he's still a self-important and self-righteous bore whose sense of humour essentially is based entirely on the assumption that the rest of the world is stupid (which, admittedly, is a fair assumption to make), he actually manages to turn these traits to his advantage. It's not very nice being all the aforementioned while writing ficti...more
Katie
Sep 16, 2008 Katie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Curious folk
Recommended to Katie by: It was at the end of Oliver Twist
Amazing, and screamingly funny sometimes, especially the part about hogs touring Broadway, and tobacco chewing in Washington, D.C. Very touching, too. His portrait of the enlightened Perkins Institute for the Blind is fascinating, especially the part about Laura Bridgman, one of the first deaf-blind students, who was about 13 at the time he visited. He contrasts this with the institutions for paupers in New York, which were at least as squalid and cruel as those in England. His exposure of the i...more
Rachel
In this book, we see nineteenth-century Washington congressmen hocking tobacco-juice loogies all over the Congressional carpets. This book is awesome.

American Notes for General Circulation is a portrait of 1842 America and Americans unlike any I’d ever encountered. Probably because, as it turns out, Americans liked Dickens's social commentary about stuff like Oliver Twist not getting a little more, but didn’t so much want to hear critiques about themselves. Typical. And so the book hasn’t come d...more
Elena Santangelo
Sep 03, 2011 Elena Santangelo rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs, fans of Dickens, Writers
I'm going to start by saying I don't recommend this book for anyone who has to read is for a school course. Books like this should never be read under duress. Also, if you read this book, I recommend saving the introductory matter for last and beginning with Dickens' narrative.

Although he was a bestselling and well-known author at the time of his trip to America, Dickens had only published a handful of works and was only 29 at the time he embarked. He'd just lost his job as a journalist in 1839,...more
JS Found
It is a universal truth that the more things change, the more they stay the same.( It is also a universal truth that we speak and write in cliches.) The traveler's view of America, written in 1842 has many uncomfortable truths to say to us in the America of 2013. That this traveler was Charles Dickens, already a critic of his country's poverty laws, government institutions, and the darker aspects of its culture, means that the US was about to face a reckoning--a literary one eighteen years befor...more
David Rackowitz
Sep 20, 2011 David Rackowitz rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Buffs
Recommended to David by: Kindle search
A really interesting book written by Charles Dickens about his visit to the U.S. in the late 1840's early 1850's. An outsider's view of the good and the bad about the U.S. a few years before the beginning of the Great Civil War. Many surprising facts. Dickens had especially strong views about slavery in America.
John Harder
In American Notes for General Circulation, Charles Dickens travels the northeastern seaboard, the Midwest and Canada. Dickens was interested in American institutions and apparently the most interesting item a city might possess is a prison and an insane asylum. I am not sure why this would be the case. Perhaps since America was still young and our cultural development was still in its infancy the most notable public building housed the criminal and crazy.

Dickens seems impressed with the decently...more
Chana
The famous quarrel between Charles Dickens and America. Can't say he didn't take on a worthy opponent...I mean, a whole country? Dickens, as usual, is larger than the life he portrays.

Though Dickens primarily made his views known through works of fiction, and many of his arguments with America were laid out similarly in Martin Chuzzlewit, it seems he couldn't keep from expounding upon those ideas in a full-blown work. As a whole, Dickens admires America and knows that America's brand of democrac...more
Jayson
I really enjoyed this book and was quite taken by the fact that Charles Dickens traveled through the United States of the early 1840s. It provided an interesting picture of our country during this period and his commentary was engaging. I cannot deny I have had a certain affection for Dickens ever since my first encounter with his writings in high school, but also after seeing a myriad of adaptations of his work for television and film. It is also important to note his impact upon the Victorian...more
Ray Campbell
This is a travelogue recorded on a trip Dickens took to the United States. Interestingly, after a lighthearted and exaggerated story of the adventure of crossing, the visit focuses on hospitals, homes for deaf, blind and finally, prisons. This seemed like he was traveling as a journalist writing for serialized publication - which he may have been. Never the less, he describes where he stays and the people he meets which is delightful. The last quarter of the book is less focused as he travels we...more
Mike Wood
Gives a good feel of what travel around America was like at the time, so there are great passages with Dickensian descriptions of America that are priceless.

On slavery, he found it so disturbing an institution that he changed his travel plans after spending a few days in the South. His very interesting observation was that, at that time, in that place, even if you found slavery despicable, there was no practical way to avoid it as you were served by slaves when entering restaurants, hotels, whi...more
Craig Kapitan
This months-long travelogue wasn't initially intended for an American audience, but the America of 170 years ago was so vastly different than what it is today that it doesn't at all feel as redundant as reading a Lonely Planet or Frommer's guide for your own hometown. There are some genuinely interesting parts to this book--such as the description of a pre-Mall Washington, D.C., as it was still being built. And some borderline hilarious moments as well, such as his disgust with the amount of tob...more
Lisa
It has some consistency problems but the observations are still very relevant. Dickens worried about American violence, distrust of politicians, uncivil political discourse, boom and bust financial schemes, devotion to money making over ethics... Sound familiar? which is both depressing and as well as comforting. We've been slogging along with these boat anchors around our neck for a long time and we still seem to make substantial forward progress. His observation of small details is delightful....more
Jane
Get this as an ebook so you can search for what interests you most--Dickens's descriptions of Congress? Niagara Falls? Prisons? Institutes for the blind? Trains? Ferries? New York? Columbus? The Mississippi? Slavery? The Shakers? I did read it cover to cover as I slowly make my way through all of Dickens's works but it struck me that everyone might benefit from a dose of seeing how something they are familiar with was described 160 years ago by a celebrity of the times who made it his business t...more
Dave Turner
I'm not a fan of adventure diaries (be they travel or otherwise) but as this author is guilty of being a genius I can take two incredible memories away from this. The first being the amazing and inspiring true story of Laura Bridgeman (who was the first deaf, dumb and blind American). The second is the horrific insight in to the dark world of slavery (which is discribed in all it's awful detail)

Dickens is not afraid of offending any one by the writing of this travel diary, nor does he find any r...more
Pattrice
Notable mostly for its insightful discussion of the torture inherent in solitary confinement. (Dickens visited numerous prisons and asylums, presumably as part of the purpose of the voyage.) Uneven in the quality of its descriptive passages, some small number of which sing with wit and vivid depiction but others of which drag. The description of the workings of Washington, D.C. is not to be missed, particularly by those patriots who tend to forget that the country was forged by tobacco-chewing k...more
Melodee
This is a travelogue documenting Dickens' experiences in America. I can see why this book lost him some friends. He is pretty brutal in his criticism of American customs, manners and ambitions. I do have to say, though, that there are parts of the book that I found extremely amusing- laugh-out-loud funny. So I enjoyed it. I think any fan of Dickens would enjoy this book, although I wouldn't read this first before his other, more famous novels, because part of the charm is recognizing his tradema...more
Linda
After enjoying the scrumptious meal of a Dickens novel, I rise from the table sighing with content, full to the brim and happy. However, I go on to other things and seem to forget in the meantime, how wonderful that meal was.

So it is with American Notes. I had forgotten how superb Dickens' writing is, how lush the prose, how subtle the hints, how witty the criticisms. Now I remember.

In 1842 Dickens spent 6 months touring the United States. This was not a reading tour, just a visit to see the cou...more
Carol
I read this book because Dickens refers to St. Louis and Belleville and Lebanon, IL, all places I know. His view of us, even in 1850, probably still has much truth to it. I was particularly interested in his comments about slavery and his decision not to travel South so he would not encounter it.
Alex Milledge
I liked the observation he noted in the conclusion of the book by the comment of the american who said "we are a trading people, not a literary people."

I think that this is an early observation of American materialism. Americans today are more concerned about Business matters than more intellectual/aesthetic/spiritual pursuits. Most americans today leave behind spirituality and look down on intellectual pursuits as boring. For instance, I have seen that some people get ambivalent to me reading b...more
Bob
Christopher Hitchens' introduction gives the game away: "Is it possible that Charles Dickens was the first visitor to be simply bored by the United States?...Could any prose be more lifeless?" but there are unforgettable moments in the book. His moving description of the Perkins School for the Blind, (the reading of which led Helen Keller's mother to obtain Anne Sullivan's services) contains this interesting observation: "It is strange to watch the faces of the blind, and see how free they are...more
Mary
Dickens did not like America on his initial visit in the early 1840s. He describes his disgust at seeing herds of pigs roaming the streets of New York, expresses doubts about the climate of Washington, D.C., decries the national habit of spitting tobacco, and insists that he condemns American politics and the American press in order to make "the Truth" generally known. His denunciation of (almost) all things American was re-imagined in his novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, in which he sends his main cha...more
Breanne
This was a very intersting book to read. I have always loved Charles Dickens. There are so many thoughts going through my head about this book, I do not know where to begin. This was a very interesting read, as I previously stated, in the sense that he brings to light America in a very different mannor than what history books portray. This is a book about a trip he made to America from November 1842-June 1843. In a broad sense he compares and contrasts England to America. Overall he is impressed...more
Martin
I think you have to start with the understanding that this is a non-fiction piece, and perhaps cut the guy some slack because he wasn’t a non-fiction writer. Sure, sure, he started out that way, but really even by the time he got to “Sketches by Boz” he was a fiction writer. And while he may have done research for the subsequent novels, there’s a big difference between that and writing non-fiction.

As such, I think he was presented with the problem of how to talk about what he was seeing. On top...more
Kristin
I love Dickens, I love reading, and I love America. Naturally, I thought I would love reading about Dickens's travels through that great country. But in reality, it was quite a slog.

I finished this small book feeling completely deflated...what a wasted opportunity! One of the greatest social observers of the 19th century puts pen to paper about one of the most interesting periods in US history and comes up with...well, not a whole lot.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. It's true that I was...more
Steve
May 18, 2008 Steve rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dickens fans, or students of American political history
Dickens made a couple of trips to America during his life. The American Notes were the product of the first and along with his Italian Notes are pretty much the only available travel notes he made for outside of England (although, of course there are terrific episodes in Tale of Two Cities and Little Dorrit).

The American Notes aren't of that much interest to the general reader. Dickens was interested largely in the treatment of what he and Victorian culture would have looked as social concerns -...more
Christa
I loved reading Dickens' views of his trip to America. As with anything in life, if you have too high expectations then things are going to be disappointing. For Dickens this was the case. He was so looking forward to his trip that it was doomed to be less than stellar from the beginning. I think that he rallied well and was able to give a good fair view of America. Now I know this wasn't the thought of Americans reading this book when it first came out. Looking at it from almost 150 years later...more
Kyle
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joel
I can see why Dickens' American travelogue somewhat lessened his popularity in the US for a while. He does have nice things to say about individual Americans; he offers a fairly even-handed critique of various prisons, madhouses, hospitals, etc.; and he delivers a much-deserved diatribe against slavery. However, he portrays the average American as a suspicious, taciturn, tobacco-chewing rube who cares only for trade/profit and who is manipulated by any vicious slander the malevolent all-powerful...more
Peter Steele
I read this book perhaps 30 - 35 years ago but only got as far as his travels to Washington. For a number of reasons I ran out of gas at tat point. It seemed to me that the themes and the issues that he had dealt with (slavery, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, public welfare had been well dealt with and that his points had been made. As the book progressed, the humor that appeared in the beginning chapters, faded to a general criticism of the unsanitary boorishness of Americans and the uncleanlin...more
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A prolific 19th Century author of short stories, plays, novellas, novels, fiction and non-fiction; during his lifetime Dickens became known the world over for his remarkable characters, his mastery of prose in the telling of their lives, and his depictions of the social classes, morals and values of his times. Some considered him the spokesman for the poor, for he definitely brought much awarenes...more
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