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No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  183 ratings  ·  16 reviews
Jackson Lears draws on a wealth of primary sources (sermons, diaries, letters) as well as novels, poems, and essays to explore the origins of turn-of-the-century American antimodernism. He examines the retreat to the exotic, the pursuit of intense physical or spiritual experiences, and the search for cultural self-sufficiency through the Arts and Crafts movement. Lears arg ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published June 15th 1994 by University of Chicago Press (first published September 12th 1981)
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This is a book about an irony of modern life. Thanks to its very openness, modernity (defined by relentless official rationality on the one hand, a universal belief in the value of free thought on the other, and boundless materialism between them) seems to be inescapable, and even efforts to escape modernity actually reinforce it. It may not be obvious to all readers, however, that this is Jackson Lears's message -- thanks in large part to the fact that the author himself is caught in the bind h ...more
This book profoundly altered the way I think about America at the turn of the 20th century, and also how I go about writing history myself. Weaving insights from psychoanalysis, sociology, literary theory, and cultural history, Lears creates a topical history that resists telling history with a simple narrative arc, even as it utilizes the narratives of the lives of exemplary figures. Half history, half theory, No Place of Grace is a deeply moral work that makes a case for spirituality and the q ...more
Cultural history of modernism and the reaction against it. Classic.
Dan Gorman
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Brilliant study of antimodern impulses during the growth of industry and the consumer economy. Jacskon Lears shows how Americans entertained serious critiques of modernity — for instance, returning to an artisanal economy of "Arts and Crafts," reviving medieval imagery and heroic sagas for the imperial era, using militarism to reinvigorate white masculinity, or preferring Catholicism or mysticism to secularism. Lear's great insight is that antimodernism could wind up reinforcing the economic and ...more
Howard Mansfield
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Lears writes with verve and insight about the coming of modern times. He shows us what this meant to the culture – in the arts, in consciousness, religion, and how Americans defined themselves. It’s an impressive book that makes sense of an era crowded with big personalities and technological change.
JR Roach
Jan 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is how you do history + cultural criticism.
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Lears explains the cultural and intellectual transformation of the period 1880-1920 as a flight from modernity and its attendant weightlessness and rationalization toward antimodern sentiment. While this sort of antimodernism has routinely (especially in the case of Henry Adams) been seen as the last gasp of a dying world, Lears writes against this interpretation, considering turn-of-the-century anti-modernism as something new. Methodologically Lears draws on a combination of Gramsci and Freud - ...more
Feb 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Lears argues that at the turn of the 20th century antimodernist impulse was not merely cultural escapism, but a critique of the secularization and increasing bureaucracy of American life. Antimodernists yearned for greater individualization and authenticity, as well a renewed spirituality. Turning toward an exotic and spiritualized medieval and orientalist aesthetic, American antimodernists nurtured a therapeutic world view that was ambivalently compatible with the material progress and imperial ...more
Jan 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: class
In No Place of Grace, T.J. Jackson Lears explores the origins and effects of the antimodernist movement in the United States around the turn of the 20th century. He argues that due to the spiritual and psychological turmoil created by modernity, many intellectuals began yearning for a more authentic physical and emotional experience by embracing ���old ways.��� He claims that this movement is more intellectually and socially important than previously suspected, because it not only encouraged esc ...more
Oct 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: school
Upon a theoretical foundation that combines Gramsci’s cultural hegemony with Freud’s psychoanalytic focus, Lears proposes a more gradual and nuanced telling of the progression from the nineteenth century to the twentieth, depicting the Victorian bourgeoisie’s antimodernim as constructive ambivalence, which shaped both American culture and her landscape.

While the academic trend of the moment was to focus on the experiences of ordinary people, Lears chronicles how the intellectual elite experienc
Jun 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Lears writes an intellectual and psychological history of a portion of the educated American elite around the turn of the last century. There he finds deep spiritual turmoil and a strain of anti-modernism reaching towards and appropriating medieval, Asian, and primitive cultures. The writing is thick - not difficult to read, but not quick as Lears opens up ideas and individuals, as they sought therapuetic self-fulfillment in experience. And so while the anti-modernists sought to avoid the advanc ...more
Oct 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: thought
Theoretically intriguing but ultimately a fabulist version of history. Lears hearts Gramsci, Freud, Weber, Nietzsche and all the other cool kids, but his platform, basically the Arts and Crafts Movement and neo-medievalism circa 1900, is too thin to support his grand designs. Just write philosophy, man. The Freudian reading of Henry Adams is worth a read for Henry Adams aficionados, and you know who you are.
Sep 28, 2011 rated it really liked it

Brilliant, intermittently frustrating in its blanket assumptions, profound, sort of crabbed in style, v necessary adjustment to how you think about the 19th century America.
Jonathan Root
Mar 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
At the risk of hyperbole, this is the greatest book on American history ever written.
Jan 28, 2008 rated it liked it
ohh what a snoozer
Jun 18, 2010 marked it as to-read
Recommend to Jen
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