American Gods
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American Gods

4.3 865
by Neil Gaiman

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A master of inventive fiction, Neil Gaiman delves into the murky depths where reality and imagination meet. Now in American Gods, he works his literary magic to extraordinary results.

Shadow dreamed of nothing but leaving prison and starting a new life. But the day before his release, his wife and best friend are killed in an accident. On the plane home to

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A master of inventive fiction, Neil Gaiman delves into the murky depths where reality and imagination meet. Now in American Gods, he works his literary magic to extraordinary results.

Shadow dreamed of nothing but leaving prison and starting a new life. But the day before his release, his wife and best friend are killed in an accident. On the plane home to the funeral, he meets Mr. Wednesday—a beguiling stranger who seems to know everything about him. A trickster and rogue, Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard. With nowhere left to go, Shadow accepts, and soon learns that his role in Mr. Wednesday's schemes will be far more dangerous and dark than he could have ever imagined. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought—and the prize is the very soul of America.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
In the introduction to his 1973 collection, Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison stated that "when belief in a god dies, the god dies," yielding, inevitably, to deities who reflect the character and obsessions of their respective eras. Twenty-eight years later, Neil Gaiman (Stardust, Neverwhere, the Sandman series) has co-opted this notion, using it as the basis for his ambitious, altogether brilliant new novel, American Gods.

Gaiman's hero is a troubled ex-convict named, appropriately, Shadow. When we first meet him, Shadow is serving a three-year sentence for aggravated assault. Just days before his parole takes effect, Shadow's wife, Laura, dies in a grotesque automobile accident. Alone and adrift, Shadow signs on as driver and bodyguard for an enigmatic grifter who calls himself, simply, Wednesday.

Wednesday, we learn, is a diminished, Americanized incarnation of the Norse god Odin. He is one of a vast pantheon of transplanted gods carried to the New World in the minds and hearts of the endless waves of immigrants. Like most of his fellow gods, Odin/Wednesday has been largely forgotten, replaced by the gods of television, technology, and other icons of a changing world. With Shadow's assistance, Wednesday takes steps to organize these displaced deities, to lead them in a war to the death with the gods of the new Millennium.

American Gods tells the story of that war, and of the hidden personal agendas that lie beneath it. It also tells the story of Shadow's discovery -- and gradual reclamation -- of his own divided soul. Part road novel, part bildungsroman, part revisionist mythology, the narrative ranges across the American landscape, from the magical roadside attraction called The House on the Rock to a Wisconsin town whose picture-perfect surface conceals an ancient, grisly secret. It also takes behind the scenes of the mundane, everyday world, and introduces a credible gallery of gods, demons, and ordinary humans, some of them living, some dead.

Like all such extravagant epics, American Gods is -- as Gaiman clearly acknowledges -- a vast, multi-colored metaphor that has much to say about our ongoing need for meaning and belief and about the astonishing creative power of the human imagination. The result is an elegant, important novel that illuminates our world -- and the various worlds that surround it -- with wit, style, and sympathetic intelligence, and stands as one of the benchmark achievements in a distinguished, constantly evolving career. (Bill Sheehan)

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The boundaries of our country, sir? Why sir, on the north we arebounded by the Aurora Borealis, on the east we are bounded by therising sun, on the south we are bounded by the procession of theEquinoxes, and on the west by the Day of Judgment.
-- The American Joe Miller's Jest Book

Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough and looked don't-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.

The best thing – in Shadow's opinion, perhaps the only good thing – about being in prison was a feeling of relief. The feeling that he'd plunged as low as he could plunge and he'd hit bottom. He didn't worry that the man was going to get hurt, because the man had got him. He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it.

It did not matter, Shadow decided, if you had done what you had been convicted of or not. In his experience everyone he met in prison was aggrieved about something: there was always something the authorities had got wrong, something they said you did when you didn't – or you didn't do quite like they said you did. What was important was that they had gotten you.

He had noticed it in the first few days, when everything, from the slang to the bad food, was new. Despite the misery and the titter skin-crawling horror of incarceration, he was breathing relief.

Shadow tried not to talk too much. Somewhere around the middle of year two he mentioned his theory to Low Key Lyesmith, hiscellmate.

Low Key, who was a grifter from Minnesota, smiled his scarred smile. "Yeah," he said. "That's true. It's even better when you've been sentenced to death. That's when you remember the jokes about the guys who kicked their boots off as the noose flipped around their necks, because their friends always told them they'd die with their boots on."

"Is that a joke?" asked Shadow.

"Damn right. Gallows humor. Best kind there is."

"When did they last hang a man in this state?" asked Shadow.

"How the hell should I know?" Lyesmith kept his orange-blond hair pretty much shaved. You could see the lines of his skull. "Tell you what, though. This country started going to bell when they stopped hanging folks. No gallows dirt. No gallows deals."

Shadow shrugged. He could see nothing romantic in a death sentence.

If you didn't have a death sentence, he decided, then prison was, at best, only a temporary reprieve from life, for two reasons. First, life creeps back into prison. There are always places to go further down. Life goes on. And second, if you just hang in there, someday they're going to have to let you out.

In the beginning it was too far away for Shadow to focus on. Then it became a distant beam of hope, and he learned how to tell himself "this too shall pass" when the prison shit went down, as prison shit always did. One day the magic door would open and he'd walk through it. So he marked off the days on his Songbirds of North America calendar, which was the only calendar they sold in the prison commissary, and the sun went down and he didn't see it and the sun came up and he didn't see it. He practiced coin tricks from a book lie found in the wasteland of the prison library; and lie worked out; and he made lists in his head of what he'd do when he got out of prison.

Shadow's lists got shorter and shorter. After two years he had it down to three things.

First, he was going to take a bath. A real, long, serious soak, in a tub with bubbles. Maybe read the paper, maybe not. Some days he thought one way, some days the other.

Second he was going to towel himself off, put on a robe. Maybe slippers. He liked the idea of slippers. If he smoked he would be smoking a pipe about now, but he didn't smoke. He would pick up his wife in his arms ("Puppy," she would squeal in mock horror and real delight, "what are you doing?"). He would carry her into the bedroom, and close the door. They'd call out for pizzas if they got hungry.

Third, after he and Laura had come out of the bedroom, maybe a couple of days later, he was going to keep his head down and stay out of trouble for the rest of his life.

"And then you'll be happy?" asked Low Key Lyesmith. That day they were working in the prison shop, assembling bird feeders, which was barely more interesting than stamping out license plates.

"Call no man happy," said Shadow, "until he is dead."

"Herodotus," said Low Key. "Hey. You're learning."

"Who the fuck's Herodotus?" asked the Iceman, slotting together the sides of a bird feeder and passing it to Shadow, who bolted and screwed it tight.

"Dead Greek," said Shadow.

"My last girlfriend was Greek," said the Iceman. "The shit her family ate. You would not believe. Like rice wrapped in leaves. Shit like that."

The Iceman was the same size and shape as a Coke machine, with blue eyes and hair so blond it was almost white. He had beaten the crap out of some guy who had made the mistake of copping a feel off his girlfriend in the bar where she danced and the Iceman bounced. The guy's friends had called the police, who arrested the Iceman and ran a check on him which revealed that the Iceman had walked from a work-release program...

American Gods. Copyright © by Neil Gaiman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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What People are saying about this

Peter Straub
Here we have . . . a real emotional richness and grandeur that emerge from masterful storytelling.
Jane Lindskold
American Gods is like a fast run downhill through a maze — both exhilarating and twisted.
Jonathan Carroll
Gaiman has managed to tell the tallest of tales in the most believable fashion. An important, essential book.
William Gibson
Neil Gaiman, a writer of rare perception and endless imagination . . . is . . . an American treasure.
Patrick Rothfuss
“Gaiman understands the shape of stories.”
Tim Powers
A magical modern Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — this book will astonish you on ever page.
Teller (Penn & Teller)
American Gods is sexy, thrilling, dark, funny and poetic.
George R. R. Martin
“Original, engrossing, and endlessly inventive; a picaresque journey across America where the travelers are even stranger than the roadside attractions.”

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American Gods 4.3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 865 reviews.
Danibelle More than 1 year ago
This is one of those books that I simply COULD NOT put down. It's a great fantasy story as well as a wake up call to pay attention to everything around us. Gaiman fans will LOVE it. Also, read the sequel, Anansi Boys.
oraymw More than 1 year ago
From the first page, Neil Gaiman's character Shadow connects with the reader in a way that few books manage in several thousand words. The reader wonders why he is in jail, and why there is a storm coming. The plot quickly takes several surprising and dramatic turns, which serve to cement a firm hook in the reader that will last for the next 600 pages. Additionally, American God's has such a tangible setting. The words quickly form concrete images in the readers mind, which enables an amazing depth of immersion. Also, the plot is so carefully crafted that not a scene is wasted. When you read this book, you need to pay attention to everything that happens, because it will all be essential by the end of the book. Finally, the conflicts in this book are so well-seated in the American conciousness that it is easy for the reader to become heavily invested in the outcome. This is a book that will stay with you for weeks after you finish it, and it will affect everything that you read from here into the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having read previous reviews of this book, I have to both agree and disagree with most of them. The novel is difficult to read on two levels. First, it is extremely graphic at times. It has several explicit sex scenes and lots of horrific violence. Second, it relies on a fragmented, piecemeal narrative that requires close concentration in order for the reader to "get" all of the interconnections. However, the novel is also very well crafted and makes several meaningful arguments about humanity and morality. Moreover, Shadow, the main character, is very compelling and likable. Due to the conflicting nature of my reactions to this novel, I found myself on the verge of putting it down several times, but in the end I was glad that I saw it through. The novel's depth and complexity overcame it's tendency to dwell on the brutal and grotesque elements of human nature.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of Neverworld, which I adored. This book was a bit too graphic for me, not leaving enough to the imagination, and going too much for shock value. I bought it at a book sale, didn't finish it, and plan on donating it to the next book sale.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Shadow went to prison for beating up two men, but receives parole after three years of doing time. Because he is big and radiates a ¿don¿t mess¿ attitude, Shadow had no problems there. Two days before he is to be freed, the warden informs Shadow that his wife died and he can leave to make proper funeral arrangements. Shadow loved his wife and is rocked by the news.

When Mr. Wednesday arrives on the scene just before the funeral of Shadow¿s wife, the grieving ex-con welcomes the craziness that ensues. Mr. Wednesday is actually Odin and with the other ancient gods and mythical creatures walks the earth though no one believes in them anymore. Mr. Wednesday and cohorts are growing weaker and he wants to make one last confrontation for the hearts of Americans.

Neil Gaiman uses flashbacks to show how leprechauns, Odin, pixies other creatures of myth and legend other came to the New World. They traveled here in the hearts and souls of the immigrants. This pure epic urban fantasy demonstrates why Mr. Gaiman remains the grandmaster of the sub-genre. The Old Ones need people to believe in them again, but doubt they can achieve their noble objective. The climax is incredibly original so that no one will guess what will happen. AMERICAN GODS might prove to be the fantasy tale of 2001 as it is already that of the midpoint.

Harriet Klausner

horvendile More than 1 year ago
I was a little lost in this book. Its a kind of Stephen King meets "Twin Peaks" meets "the golden bough". I really wanted to like this but it seemed to meander about with so many characters that sounded the same and talked in the glib hardboiled King way that I could not distinguish them all the time or remember where we met them the first time. However Shadow was an interesting character and the slapstick of his Herbert West-like wife was good. There was some "page-turning" interest in parts especially in the Silverlake(?) & hinzellman scenes but it was painful in many other parts. This was a dark fantasy that tried to be sometimes light-hearted in a Kingish kind of way that ended up being sporadically annoying. This is the only novel I have read by Gaiman and I appreciate the respect he holds for the classic sci-fi and high fantasy authors (Cabell and Mirlees) so I think I will read something else by him despite this harsh review.
Fagelman More than 1 year ago
Neil Gaiman has established himself as one of the finest writers to grace us in the modern century. American Gods is an epic book, where within minutes belief is suspended and one becomes immersed in a story influenced by other stories old and new. The plot moves at freight train speed, with breakneck turns and whipping highs and lows, all centered with a most alluring protagonist: Shadow is an enigma, wrapped in a dangerous past and possessing incredible loyalty. I could gush all day at this fantastic read, but the best thing to do is pick it up, immerse yourself, and ever after glance about with the thought that gods may in fact live, breathe, and suffer along with the rest of us. GREAT BOOK!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't know if I have ever reviewed a book on here before or not, but I was so disappointed with this one I had to give my 2 cents. This book took me FOREVER to read! If it wasn't for the fact that I owned it, I would have thrown in the towel long before I finally got through it. Everyone hates it when they read a book that is extremely easy to put down and this is one of those. There were so many parts that I thought to myself that they would surely get tied together with the main story by the end....but no! This book was completely pointless, and although I like to own most/all of the books I read, I think this one may make its way to a garage sale or used book store becauseI wouldn't suggest it to anyone or ever read it again. The length wasn't completely overwhelming, but it was a long enough book that it made it all the more irritating at it's lack of point.....and for as long as it took me to read it it might as well have been 1,000 pages. And when the book finally reaches some sort of climax, it brushes over the events of some big battle instead of actually going over what happened....all build up and zero payoff!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love the concept. Good writing. Characters are fantastic BUT after 280 pages of feeling like I was reading a travel journal I gave up. I like books that tell a story and so far this one is more interested in the backgrounds of it's minor characters,which the main character meets every ten pages, than the actual plot. Very unfocused and frustrating to read.
Annibebe More than 1 year ago
This book kept me hoping, as I turned each page, that something understandable was going to happen. Neil Gaiman had such a wonderful idea for this novel, but he never quite made it work. I struggled to figure out who these illusive "American Gods" were. Everything was too ambiguous and unsatisfying. I actually can't even believe I finished it. This is a book that will be donated to the library or Salvation Army.
wolfsbane82 More than 1 year ago
This is a good adventure story that forces you to look at Gods in a new way. It has good Character development, many good twists and I was amazed when all elements of the plot were brought together in the end. If you like stories that include adventure, changing relationships, love, and war you will enjoy this book.
MRBNYC More than 1 year ago
I had heard about Gaiman, but never read one of his works. AMERICAN GODS is a good blend of real life and fantasy, done in a unique and interesting manner. The story moves along swiftly, and the descriptions of the numerous and varied gods is fascinating and informative (clearly, a significant amount of research went into the writing). I would recommend this to anyone interested in fantasy works, but I'm not positive it would have a broader appeal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From the moment I picked up this book, I was struck by the author's writing style, and although I had never previously read anything by Neil Gaiman, there was a familiarity that sucked me in. I soon realized that the familiarity was a combination of good literature and a modern point of view that encapsulated my own interest in religions and popular culture. The characters and tales woven into the pages, tales of gods of the old world and gods of modern times, were so well developed and so carefully intertwined, I couldn't wait to return to the book each time I set it down. American Gods is a wild ride across the American landscape, touching down in familiar places and taking you to the realm of the gods. Highly recommended.
Priscamor More than 1 year ago
Recommended for: everyone from teen and up Highly Recommended! Not only is this a Neil Gaiman novel, but it involved mythological beings therefore I was eager to read it, but afraid to be disappointed. However, Neil Gaiman surpassed my expectations by not succumbing to his normal style of writing, and immersing into a narrative about the main character without betraying his private personality. He also doesn't waste time explaining who any of the supernatural characters are and it is not to be missed; you either know them or you don't. Neil Gaiman takes us on a road trip through midwest America and humanizes these gods, unraveling a story within stories which captures your interest as you delve more into the book. I don't want to spoil the fun of discovering the characters and the plots, so all I will say is, read it! It is worth it!
Reiner More than 1 year ago
The novel is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on a mysterious and taciturn protagonist, Shadow. The central concept is that gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them. Immigrants to the United States brought dwarfs, elves, leprechauns, and other spirits and gods with them, but their power is diminished as people's beliefs wane. New gods have arisen, reflecting America's obsessions with media, celebrity, technology, and illegal drugs, among others. Various real-life towns and tourist attractions, including the House on the Rock (and its 'world's largest carousel') and Rock City, are featured through the course of the book. Gaiman states in an introduction that he has obscured the precise location of some actual locales.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading Neverwhere I was an instant Gaiman fan. That book was outstanding and I read it cover to cover in about 2 days. I guess my expectations for American Gods was quite high. In the end, I didnt really care about any of the characters. Shadow was an interesting protagonist, but not one that I could relate too, or understand. His actions were unexpected in teh beginning, but by the end pretty predictable. The plot twists were good, but I did not have any real 'aha' moments (Hinzelmann was so obviously not what he appeared to be). I also think that one of the best things abotu Gaiman is his wit. I had more than a few hearty chuckles during neverwhere, but not many in this one. It took me a long time to read and I would only get through a handful of pages before getting bored and putting it down. By the middle i just skimmed through many passages. Maybe i missed important bits? Either way, it didnt really hold my attention. I was waiting for a moving conclusion, but it didnt come. Still, i got through it, and that deserves at least 3 stars.
wiresparrow More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books on my bookshelf. This and Neverwhere (also by Gaiman) are two books I recommend to people that want an interesting read. It branches out with  subtle references to so many things. A little nostalgic even. Names are not just names in this book. I just love Gaiman's writing but particularly this one and Neverwhere. Everything's more than it seems.
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
American Gods is, at its core, a social commentary on the things Americans worship. The story follows Shadow, a man who takes a job with Mr. Wednesday immediately after his release from prison. He&rsquo;s not entirely sure who Mr. Wednesday is or what he does, but he crisscrosses the country with him and meets some interesting people along the way. What the reader learns, along with Shadow, is that the people he meets are the physical representations of various gods that are kept alive by people&rsquo;s belief in them. Years ago, as people migrated to the United States, they brought their folklore and belief systems with them. Unfortunately, as people become more &ldquo;Americanized&rdquo; they begin to worship new things, such as the media, technology, and transportation. These &ldquo;new&rdquo; American Gods are also represented by real people, and the old is at war with the new for their place in the world. If I haven&rsquo;t lost you yet, let me be clear that this book is absolutely stunning and that you shouldn&rsquo;t judge it based on my summary because it&rsquo;s such a layered book that it&rsquo;s difficult to explain. American Gods takes a look at what Americans worship today and how these new preoccupations affect our personal histories. It begs the question of whether our ancestors and their beliefs matter, and it mocks the the &ldquo;gods&rdquo; that Americans worship today. More than just as social commentary, however, Gaiman strikes a chord in the hearts of readers with his incredible character development and fast-paced storyline. Despite its length, American Gods is impossible to put down and will leave you wanting more. Allison @ The Book Wheel
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book took a while to get into. It was not a sit on the edge of your seat and cant put it down kind of book. But even so, the premise of the story and the plot are great.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sometimes drawn out and perhaps a bit cliche in the new gods though the gods themselves are unique and the pantheon within is really incredible.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this to be intriguing, entertaining, and splendidly written. I found myself wanting to finish it in earnest. The plot twists were unexpected and delightful. Not sure where the idea for this novel originated but go back there and grab another one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is huge and not the easiest read at times but it is worth the effort.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very talented author. The story is smart and entertaining, but the writing talent takes it to the next level.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do not read this book if you can't pay attention to it. I enjoyed this book. Every once in a while I like to read a book that will actually make my brain work. It has meaning and depth. Shadows path through the world of the American Gods is a tricky one, a coin trick that is simple once you slow it down and look past the illusion, clear the smoke and turn the mirrors! THAT is how I inturpet this book. There were times I got a little confused but in the end I think it's briliant. 4 stars instead of 5 because some parts seemed to be there simply to confuse the confused. Don't get me wrong though I love Neil Gaiman one of my favorite books is Neverwhere.
CAJ45 More than 1 year ago
I found this book very entertaining. Did I always know what was going on...Nope nor did I fully understand everything. But it had a great cast of characters and a mixed up storyline that you just wanted to read to find out where it was going. Definitely a book I would re-read because I would discover something new with each reading.