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Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  9,106 ratings  ·  524 reviews
Young Martin Dressler begins his career as an industrious helper in his father's cigar store. In the course of his restless young manhood, he makes a swift and eventful rise to the top, accompanied  by two sisters one a dreamlike shadow, the other a worldly business partner. As the eponymous Martin's vision becomes bolder and bolder he walks a haunted line between fantasy ...more
Kindle Edition, 306 pages
Published September 1st 2010 by Vintage (first published March 25th 1996)
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Average rating 3.57  · 
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 ·  9,106 ratings  ·  524 reviews


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Michael Finocchiaro
I was underwhelmed by Martin Dressler. I felt his character was one-dimensional and was not enamoured with either Caroline or Emma. The descriptions of Manhattan and Brooklyn in the late 19th and early 20th century are certainly interesting and this is what saved the book for this reviewer from a 2* rating. I felt like slapping the hapless Martin around for his blindness to love which is fine but the author kept returning to this theme a painful number of times that I felt he was beating me over ...more
Chris
Nov 30, 2011 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 Shruggedand there are plenty of reasons to hate Atlas Shruggedyou'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
...more
Melki
Sep 08, 2015 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
...more
Chrissie
Martin Dressler is the central protagonist of this novel. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1997. We follow him for approximately the first three decades of his life. He is born in 1872 and lives in New York City. His father owned a shop selling cigars. Would he follow in his fathers footsteps? No, he would not. He had dreams, much bigger dreams.

So, this is about life in New York City a decade or two before and at the turn 19th century. It is chock full of period detail. The city was in a
...more
Nation Hirstein
Mar 25, 2009 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
Paul Bryant
Nov 19, 2007 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 ...more
Stephanie
Apr 30, 2007 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
...more
Vit Babenco
May 10, 2015 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 color
...more
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 ...more
Moses Kilolo
Sep 17, 2012 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
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I feel fairly certain this won the Pulitzer because it's about New York. I couldn't possibly be for any other reason. It couldn't have been for good writing, which doesn't exist in this, nor for good characterization, which is missing entirely. The worst of it is that the last 70 or so pages turned into description after boring description of the interior of a new hotel. It was absolutely awful.

The time period is approximately the same as in Finney's Time and Again and in Carr's The Alienist.
...more
Jill
Feb 10, 2016 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
robin friedman
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An American Dreamer

Steven Millhausers 1996 novel, Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer" is a fable about the allure and limitations of the American dream. Set in a rapidly-developing New York City at the beginning of the Twentieth Century and recounted in an oracular style by an omniscient narrative voice, the book tells the story of "a man named Martin Dressler, a shopkeeper's son, who rose from modest beginnings to a height of dreamlike good fortune." As the story develops Martin
...more
Benjamin Obler
May 04, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel, fiction
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 ...more
Bên Phía Nhà Z
Giấc mơ Mỹ chuyển mình một cách khéo léo, sang cái lạch hay ho, ở điểm này, khi độc giả nhanh chóng nhận ra, Martin không khao khát một cái gì đó cụ thể. Tiền: không phải. Chủ cửa hàng điểm tâm: không phải. Chủ khách sạn: không phải. Khởi nghiệp nói chung: không phải. Cái Martin khao khát là một thế giới do anh tạo ra, một hệ thống vận chuyển theo phương cách mà anh muốn: qua mỗi thành công là một lần anh lại tự đập nát để rồi lại tái tạo lại chính mình. Anh là Chúa trời trong cái thế giới mà ...more
Tuckova
Feb 06, 2011 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 ...more
Louis
Dec 12, 2008 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 ...more
Ngọc
Dec 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3, 65 (?).

Một cuốn sách khiến mình choáng váng, chỉ khi lần giở đến những trang cuối cùng. Mình cũng không nghĩ mình lại nâng hạng đánh giá cho cuốn sách này chỉ vì cách tác giả điều chỉnh câu chuyện ở phút cuối. Tất thảy mang đến cho mình một cú lộn trong cảm xúc. Hơi rối rắm, nhưng rõ ràng.

Giấc mơ Mỹ là câu chuyện về một chàng thanh niên thông minh, biết nắm bắt thời cơ tại mảnh đất của những giấc mơ, Martin Dressler. Hàng loạt những thành công trong kinh doanh, đã nâng bước cho Martin trong
...more
Joachim Stoop
2,5/5

Steven Millhauser deservedly received the Pulitzer Prize...
... but for the wrong book. Where his short story collection Dangerous Laughter excells in unpredictability and wit, this one is so cliché and tedious.
There is still a certain Roald Dahl magical vibe coming through, but not nearly enough to uplift the whole thing
Jessica
Aug 03, 2007 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
carol.
I liked it, but probably appreciated it more because I was first introduced to Millhauser through his short stories. He loves lists, and describing successive items, stringing them together in a fantastical image and creating an overwhelming image. This style is challenging in a novel, but overall he did better than I thought he would at holding my attention. The historical NY setting was especially interesting as the trains are tunneled underground and uptown lots are being sold to speculators. ...more
Michael Adamchuk
Young Martin, the son of a tobacconist, has big ambitions. In a rapid rise he goes from bus boy to buying the hotel. He then continues to build bigger and better. He eventually realizes he can't build a better world with his vision alone.
Tuck
Dec 28, 2010 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
Meri
Feb 17, 2009 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 ...more
Sharon
Jul 26, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Beyond being underwhelmed, I was downright bored. I only finished it because it was on my Pulitzer challenge list.
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
The reason why this was on my shelf is that it was an assigned text in 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 ...more
Robyn Hammontree
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
A unique take on the American Dream that focuses primarily on the dream-like nature of ambition, achievement, sacrifice, and failure. Ultimately, it serves as a cautionary tale about trying too hard to create in real life what is best left to slumber. Also, there's a sentence that lasts six pages if you're into that sort of thing.
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
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
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craige
Mar 19, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Millhauser is one of my favorite authors, but this one didn't do it for me at all.
Daniel Jackson
Mar 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Freakin' awesome.
Melissa Febos
rated it it was ok
Mar 20, 2007
elyk
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James
Mar 26, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting novel. Not great, but there are visuals and ideas from it that have stuck with me for a long time.
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liz
Apr 25, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
Similar to The Fountainhead- in that it deals with architecture, ambition, and the individual's quest- but much more palatable for those who think Ayn Rand is a nut. Also, I desperately wanted to live in the hotel that Martin dreams up...
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Millhauser was born in New York City, grew up in Connecticut, and earned a B.A. from Columbia University in 1965. He then pursued a doctorate in English at Brown University. He never completed his dissertation but wrote parts of Edwin Mullhouse and From the Realm of Morpheus in two separate stays at Brown. Between times at the university, he wrote Portrait of a Romantic at his parents' house in ...more

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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.” 3 likes
“Martin thought of the iron El trestles winding and stretching across the city, of department store windows and hotel lobbies, of electric elevators and street-car ads, of the city pressing its way north on both sides of the great park, of dynamos and electric lights, of ten-story hotels, of the old iron tower near the depot at West Brighton with its two steam-driven elevators rising and falling in the sky--and in his blood he felt a surge of restlessness, as if he were a steam train spewing fiery coal smoke into the black night sky as he roared along a trembling El track, high above the dark storefronts, the gaslit saloons, the red-lit doorways, the cheap beer dives, the dance halls, the gambling joints, the face in the doorway, the sudden cry in the night.” 3 likes
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