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U.S.A.: The 42nd Parallel / 1919 / The Big Money

(The U.S.A. Trilogy)

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  4,648 ratings  ·  181 reviews
In the novels that make up the U.S.A.trilogy—The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money—Dos Passos creates an unforgettable collective portrait of America, shot through with sardonic comedy and brilliant social observation. He interweaves the careers of his characters and the events of their time with a narrative verve and breathtaking technical skill that make U.S.A. amon ...more
Hardcover, 1288 pages
Published 1996 by Library of America (first published 1938)
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Apr 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american, favourites
Present at the Birth of Corporate Man

The modern de Tocqueville in fictional format. There is no better observer of the 20th century American character than Dos Passos. He chronicles that unique mixture of frenetic American activity coupled with an equally energetic despair.

Striving in America isn't based on hope but serves to avoid reflection on the need for hope or its source. It isn't possible to understand the attraction of a man like Donald Trump to a huge swathe of the American population
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An Affair to Remember, one of the most romantic films of all time (particularly, I have in mind the 1957 American romance film starring Cary Grant (Nickie Ferrante) and Deborah Kerr (Terry McKay), has been like the steady tick-tock of a clock on my brains, not having ceased once since I have started my read of The USA Trilogy some weeks ago. Now that I have finished this fabulous book I feel the sound is still there, and I strongly hope it’s not going to get permanent. Saying that I don’t mean t ...more
Vit Babenco
Nov 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
U.S.A. trilogy is a panorama of the state. John Dos Passos knows every nook and cranny of the country. John Dos Passos knows all ins and outs of human soul so the book is a real gallery of human types.
“But the working people, the common people, they won’t allow it.” “It’s the common people who get most fun out of the torture and execution of great men… If it’s not going too far back I’d like to know who it was demanded the execution of our friend Jesus H. Christ?”
John Dos Passos hates movers and
Matthew Appleton
141st book of 2020.


The U.S.A. Trilogy is comprised of three novels: The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932) and The Big Money (1936); Passos wanted the novels to be sold and read as one, so in honour of that, I found a beautiful old copy (from 1937!) of the trilogy as one from Everyman Library and began—its total was 1449 pages.

Narrative Mass

Its construction is originally what interested me the most on starting. There are four narrative modes throughout all three books and the chapters shift betwe
Geoffrey Benn
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
USA is a trilogy, but should really be viewed as a grand novel in three parts. The first section, “The 42nd parallel,” takes place in the decade prior to WWI, in the United States. It is an optimistic, coming of age story – the characters are primarily young, idealistic. Many of the characters are working class people and become involved in radical politics. Throughout “42nd parallel,” you get the feeling of rising class consciousness and working class power – strikes are being won, the workers ...more
Nov 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Veronica by: Modern Library's 100 Best Novels
Attempting to tackle Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy in one week, Thanksgiving week, nonetheless, was quite a challenge and has put my "book a week" schedule a tad behind, however, this phenomenal masterpiece (yes, I am singing its praises) was worth the eyestrain and resulting bloodshot eyes.
I wrestled with the idea of giving the 1200+ page tome three weeks reading time since U.S.A. consists of three novels; The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money, however, since Modern Library listed it singly a
Jan 10, 2020 rated it liked it
The 42nd Parallel (4-star)
I really enjoyed this part of the trilogy. It's well written and shows the life, struggles & times in the USA at the turn of the century to WWI.
These characters stem from the working class. They all struggle for comfort, stability, security. The struggles are real. Jobs are lost, bosses take liberties, landlords ask high rents for squalid conditions. It's a hand to mouth existence that all the characters want to leave behind.
Very socialist. I hadn't realized the USA wa
Erik Graff
May 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: literature
Indeed, this is "the great American novel"--so far. It is certainly far and away the best I have ever encountered and, yes, I suffered through Melville's opus about fishing. Very few times have I finished a novel of well over a thousand pages and strongly regretted that there was no more. The only other instance that comes to mind is Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers.

As a course in American history, U.S.A. is strongly recommended to anyone who has done the basic, high school level coursework
Rob T
Aug 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I had a habit of writing English papers about economics in literature, so the U.S.A. trilogy is like a dream come true. A student could spend years writing about class and money in this book. What really made it sing for me was my own sadness about the America that could have been and the America that happened instead. Add to that Dos Passos's fantastic voices and it's well worth a read.
Patrick Sprunger
Jan 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, read-in-2012
As far as opuses go, U.S.A. is probably about as good as they come. The problem is, I'm not sure how much demand there is for an opus these days. Contemporary readers love quantity, form, repetition (see: Harry Potter, Twilight, Game of Thrones, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) - when duly monetized and adaptable for film. But we, as a people, may be turning our back on the Tolstoys and Joyces and Dos Passoses of yesteryear.

I think the reason is pretty simple. The opus, grand as it is, co
Christ, took me long enough, but I finally finished the whole trilogy. And damned if it wasn't totally rewarding. The 42nd Parallel was the most enjoyable of the three to read, with its long, almost proto-beat travel passages and its sense of boundless optimism for the working class in America. As the characters become more and more complex and their actions become more and more intertwined over the course of the trilogy, you find yourself totally sucked into their world. Highlight moment: the e ...more
Jun 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I don't understand why everyone is still looking for the Great American Novel. It was written by John Dos Passos back in the '30s. Ok, its actually three novels bound together as a trilogy, but more's the luck. It you have ever wanted to go back in time and stand in the middle of America during the first part of the 20th century while everything happened around you, now's your chance. And be sure to have music by George Gershwin playing in the background. I like this book so much I own two copie ...more
Mar 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Yow! Too much to say about this - random observations - the depictions of post-WWI US and European strategy around control of oil-producing parts of the globe seems startlingly up-to-date, as does the wrangling of various business tycoons with the recently birthed FDA.
By contrast, the tribulations of anyone who catches a venereal disease in the era before antibiotics, the passing reference to an "icebox" that actually required blocks of ice to keep things cold and so on are interesting period de
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Astounding! Among the finest books ever written. From this point on I propose that in cartoons, when a character is shown sleepless and reading a characteristically lengthy book, that that book be U.S.A instead of War and Peace.
Miranda Davis
Jul 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is the Great American Novel Trilogy. Innovative structure even for today (storytelling through vignettes as well as straight narration). Just an incredible, involving, sweeping epic depiction of the U.S. in the 20's (wobblies, Fighting Bob Lafollette, unions, everything and everyone, no joke). From the snapshots and the fragments from various characters' POV emerges a portrait of our country that is unforgettable. This, for me, is a desert island book. I could read it hundreds of times and ...more
Sep 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Red-blooded Americans
Recommended to Alan by: Stand on Zanzibar and, more recently, David Brin's Existence
U.S.A. is the slice of a continent. U.S.A. is a group of holding companies, some aggregations of trade unions, a set of laws bound in calf, a radio network, a chain of moving picture theatres, a column of stockquotations rubbed out and written in by a Western Union boy on a blackboard, a public-library full of old newspapers and dogeared historybooks with protests scrawled on the margins in pencil. U.S.A. is the world's greatest rivervalley fringed with mountains and hills, U.S.A. is a set of bi
I wavered between 2 and 3 stars for this one. *edit* Initially I decided upon 2 stars but after rethinking I’m adding another. I’ve always known what I liked about the trilogy so I’m not revising my “on the plus side.” It’s been harder for me to grasp what I disliked so I’m altering that final paragraph.

On the plus side- Dos Passos uses some pretty innovative writing techniques. I especially liked the Newsreel segments of the novels which gave fragments of headlines, newspaper stories, and popu
Jim Leckband
Sep 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman was talking about himself, but that quote could be the U.S.A. talking in Dos Passos overwhelming series of books that make up the U.S.A. trilogy. The trilogy is an outstanding document of how life was lived in the early part of the twentieth century up to the Depression. And I mean really how life was lived. Dos Passos attention to period details of how people dress, eat, room, travel, work,
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I don't generally write reviews for the classics, since I figure that many other people have already done a better job than I could do, and this isn't any exception. However, there has been some discussion of these books' connections with some Rush songs, and I do feel qualified to discuss that shortly.

Most Rush fans will make the connection with the song "The Big Money", but there two other songs whose titles also bear similarities with these books: "The Camera Eye" and "Middletown Dreams". The
Carol Storm
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
Frantic and tedious, didactic and oversimplified, and always faintly artificial, like the characters are not real people, but instead a creaky bunch of marionettes held by a very old man with arthritis.

In the book there were many characters with different classbackgrounds and various uncontrollable sexualneeds. They dealt with the classtruggle in a way that was at times highlydramatic but also highly predictable. Everyone drank a lot and had sex a lot and the good characters came to realize that
Oct 11, 2007 rated it liked it
Together, the three novels represent a compelling character sketch of the United States during the first three decades of the 20th century, when America was awakening to its growing power and reveling in its seemingly endless prosperity. Dos Passos advances his episodic narrative through several meticulously drawn characters that span the gamut of Jazz Age archetypes: the flapper, the revolutionary, the industrialist, the speculator, etc. Dos Passos uses his characters’ intertwined lives to expl ...more
Apr 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Dos Passos made me want to start a union at my own job. The trilogy starts off great in the 42nd Parrallel, but starts to lag in 1919. The Big Money is where Dos Passos makes his message, along with his disappointment clear. America it appears really hasn't changed. If anything, it's cyclical.

"They have clubbed us off the streets they are stronger they are rich they hire and fire the politicians the newspapereditors the old judges the small men with reputations the collegepresidents the wardhee
John E
Jan 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read in the 1960s and it was fresh even then when it was 30 years old. Still one of the great novels of all time. Innovated in sturcture and socially correct. It's on my short re-read list!
Feb 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
I want to appreciate stream of consciousness writing, but I cannot find any artistic merit in it. Thankfully, John Dos Passos restricts that style to certain short sections of The 42nd Parallel, 27 mini-chapters intended to give a broader perspective than those of the expository characters. Perhaps for other readers it serves that purpose. The narrative is also interspersed with 19 “newsreels”, in which he cuts short phrases from the headlines of various contemporary news stories. Unfortunately, ...more
Jun 06, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
The USA Trilogy John Dos Passos (1930-1936) #23

The 42nd Parallel
March 22, 2013

Whoever picked these books for the Modern Library list had a GIANT boner for Marx, communism and the worker’s struggle. I have learned more about the IWW and the Marxist movement and brotherhood than I have ever cared to know. The interesting thing about these books is that they open my eyes to see the history of unified labor (i.e. modern political communism), and understand that the “system” that people bitch abo
Dan Gorman
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Its portrayal of morally decadent and heartless socialites in some ways out-Hemingway's Hemingway (see "The Sun Also Rises"). But the trilogy is remarkable for the way it synthesizes the major historical themes of the 1920s shortly after the decade ended. Dos Passos is sharply critical of capitalism, but recognizes the power of the economic system, which is now larger than (and feeds upon) individuals. His sympathies lie with the leftist critics, who repeatedly fail to propose a viable alternati ...more
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is historical fiction to us but was reality in all its complexity when it was written. A big time commitment to read, sweeping in scope. There are lots of better reviews. Here is one of the 'News Reels' that separate sections of narrative.


Passengers in Sleeping Car Aroused At point of Gun

Flow, river, flow
Down to the sea
Bright stream bring my loved one
Home to me


at the end of the last campaign, writes Champ Clark, Missouri's brilliant Congre
Nov 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Upon finishing the third of the three novels, I could not help but draw parallels between the time in which the books were set (and written,) the early 20th century, and now, the early 21st century. As my 11th grade English teacher noted, "humanity's circumstances will always be different, but the human condition never changes."

I can't say the novels that make up this trilogy are an easy read, nor did I find them particularly enjoyable, but I
Sep 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy (The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money) is something of an anti-heroic epic, in which the intertwined lives of characters representing broad American types unfold to present a vision of America that fulfills the promise of American Idealism by drawing attention to the very elements that idealism so frequently undermines. In that sense, the U.S.A. of Dos Passos’ is a utopia – yet his abrupt juxtaposition of poeticized abstractions of historical elements and disjoin ...more
Oct 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is one of the most unusual books I have ever read. It is difficult to even describe the plot and it takes a while to learn "how to read". But, you finish with a pretty fair flavor of the United States (politically, economically, and socially) immediately preceding, during, and after WWI. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This book is still relevant even though it seems to have been forgotten--like many of the people described in the short bios interspersed throughout (Ran ...more
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Reading 1001: U.S.A. by John Dos Passos 1 7 Apr 07, 2020 03:41PM  

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John Roderigo Dos Passos was an American novelist and artist.

He received a first-class education at The Choate School, in Connecticut, in 1907, under the name John Roderigo Madison. Later, he traveled with his tutor on a tour through France, England, Italy, Greece and the Middle East to study classical art, architecture and literature.

In 1912 he attended Harvard University and, after graduating in

Other books in the series

The U.S.A. Trilogy (3 books)
  • The 42nd Parallel (U.S.A., #1)
  • 1919 (U.S.A., #2)
  • The Big Money (U.S.A., #3)

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