The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation

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Oxford University Press, 2004 - History - 214 pages
"The American Dream" is one of the most familiar and resonant phrases in our national lexicon, so familiar that we seldom pause to ask its origin, its history, or what it actually means. In this fascinating short history, Jim Cullen explores the meaning of the American Dream, or rather the several American Dreams that have both reflected and shaped American identity from the Pilgrims to the present. Cullen begins by noting that the United States, unlike most other nations, defines itself not on the facts of blood, religion, language, geography, or shared history, but on a set of ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and consolidated in the Constitution.At the core of these ideals lies the ambiguous but galvanizing concept of the American Dream, a concept that for better and worse has proven to be amazingly elastic and durable for hundreds of years and across racial, class, and other demographic lines. Cullen then traces a series of overlappingAmerican dreams: the quest for of religious freedom that brought the Pilgrims to the "New World"; the political freedom promised in the Declaration; the dream of upward mobility, embodied most fully in the figure of Abraham Lincoln; the dream of home ownership, from homestead to suburb; the intensely idealistic-and largely unrealized-dream of equality articulated most vividly by Martin Luther King, Jr. The version of the American Dream that dominates our own time--what Cullen calls "the Dreamof the Coast"--is one of personal fulfillment, of fame and fortune all the more alluring if achieved without obvious effort, which finds its most insidious expression in the culture of Hollywood. For anyone seeking to understand a shifting but central idea in American history, The American Dream is an interpretive tour de force.
 

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User Review  - OscarWilde87 - LibraryThing

The American Dream - home ownership, doing better than your parents' generation did, from rags to riches, the pursuit of happiness. In The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a ... Read full review

THE AMERICAN DREAM: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation

User Review  - Kirkus

Prep school teacher and historian Cullen, who once recast Bruce Springsteen in the mold of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Born in the U.S.A., 1997), now argues that you can't have the American Dream without at ... Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

A DREAM COUNTRY
DREAM OF THE GOOD LIFE I THE PURITAN ENTERPRISE
3
DREAM CHARTER THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
27
DREAM OF THE GOOD LIFE II UPWARD MOBILITY
51
KING OF AMERICA THE DREAM OF EQUALITY
95
DETACHED HOUSES THE DREAM OF HOME OWNERSHIP
125
DREAM OF THE GOOD LIFE III THE COAST
151
EXTENDING THE DREAM
177
NOTES ON SOURCES
183
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
193
INDEX
197
Copyright

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About the author (2004)


Jim Cullen holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown University and teaches at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, in New York City. He is the author of Born in the U.S.A.: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition and The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past, among other books.

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