Angel 's Reviews > Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America

Promised Land by Jay Parini
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's review
May 10, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: books-and-reading, history, literary-studies
Read from May 07 to 10, 2012 , read count: 1

The book is a discussion and analysis of 13 books that the author argues changed America (i.e. what became the United States) in some way. The author picked out the thirteen books on the basis of how they illustrate the American character and the myths of the nation: values like self-reliance, self-invention, founding myths, race relations, so on.

The chapters have a very simple structure for each book presented in this work: an overview of the book; a look at the book's author or authors; description and summary of the work itself, and finally a statement on the book's influence over time with some mentions of other books that should be considered alongside the book being considered in a chapter. The book includes an appendix of 100 other books that the author considers important.

For me, the book was just ok. It is an academic tome, and I say that with the negative connotation that saying "academic tome" often carries: a dry book that is not very engaging to the casual reader. It reads a bit like a textbook. I can see this book being assigned in some American literature survey in college or a similar class. Also, I did not find as engaging because a lot of the stuff he was discussing I already knew about. I read a good number of the books he is discussing when I was in graduate school, so for me at least, I did not need to take the trip down memory lane again for things I had already discussed when I was in graduate school. However, if you are not familiar with the works described, and he does argue that the works should be read (or reread) once in a while to get a sense of the American myth and culture, this may be a book to pick up to at least get acquainted with things like The Federalist Papers or Uncle Tom's Cabin.

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Reading Progress

05/07/2012 page 16
05/09/2012 page 31
8.0% "Finished the Plymouth Plantation chapter. So, sure, the Pilgrims were "democratic" and had a sense of "common community" as long as you were part of their "community." Otherwise, they were pretty much intolerant, repressed, assholes."
05/09/2012 page 37
10.0% "Started chapter on Federalist Papers. I find it fascinating that the authors assumed their readers were well informed and read. I don't think you can make any such assumption today, even among people who claim to have read things like the Federalist Papers or the Constitution. Today, those people probably skimmed whatever Beck or Rush told them to skim."
05/10/2012 page 54
14.0% "Re: Franklin's autobio: "In America, the myth of self-creation and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is pervasive, although its reality is too easily assumed in a world where class, race, and gender still pose formidable barriers. Nonetheless, the American dream of class mobility is sacred. . . .""
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