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American Literacy

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Throughout America's history thousands of books have captured the imagination of its populace, but only a few hundred have transcended pure entertainment or topicality and cut to the root of our nation's character. Beginning with Amerigo Vespucci, whose Cosmographiae Introductio was so important to the founding and development of this country that it was named after him, American Literacy examines fifty such books, and their authors, that are essential to understanding America's character. American Literacy is ...
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Overview

Throughout America's history thousands of books have captured the imagination of its populace, but only a few hundred have transcended pure entertainment or topicality and cut to the root of our nation's character. Beginning with Amerigo Vespucci, whose Cosmographiae Introductio was so important to the founding and development of this country that it was named after him, American Literacy examines fifty such books, and their authors, that are essential to understanding America's character. American Literacy is not an anthology but the stories behind the books and authors that influenced America and continue to do so. While many of the titles are familiar to most readers, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and Dr. Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" - others are familiar but less expected: Webster's Spelling Book, Fannie Farmer's The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, and Dr. Benjamin Spock's The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care - and a few are rarely heard of today, yet their influence has affected our daily lives: Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives, and Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast. American Literacy puts these works in context to help readers understand the words and the minds that forged and influenced a nation.

Beginning with Amerigo Vespucci's Cosmographiae Introductio (1507), this work examines 50 such books and their authors that are essential to understanding America's character. While many of the titles are familiar to most readers--Thomas Paine's Common Sense--others are familiar but less expected--Frank Norris' The Octopus.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Conway, teacher and humorist, here sketches background information on the writers of 50 published works that he believes have had the greatest impact on American society. The selections are a combination of the author's personal preference and the results of a survey which questioned such distinguished Americans as former president Jimmy Carter and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. While most of the literature is book length, Conway also includes The Man with the Hoe (1899) and several influential essays--for example, Thoreau's Civil Disobedience (1849). Several choices deal with societal ills: Helen Hunt Jackson's A Century of Dishonor (1881), which detailed the mistreatment of Native Americans, and The Octopus (1901), a novel by Frank Norris focusing on the negative impact of the railroads. Disappointingly, the most recent selection is dated 1971, Daniel Ellsberg's The Pentagon Papers . And although Conway describes each title and profiles the author, his thesis would have been strengthened by excerpts of the selections. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Helped by a 1992 survey aimed at identifying influential books, Conway here comments on 50 titles that have had a significant ``impact on American society'': e.g., Tom Paine's Common Sense , Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin , Fannie Farmer's Cook Book , and Daniel Ellsworth's Pentagon Papers . For each, Conway (Katherine Gibbs Sch., Boston) provides a brief summary of contemporary happenings, an essay describing the impact, and a cursory summary of the author's life. His selections are fair enough, and his contentis accurate if simplified. His style, though rhapsodic, is disjointed because the chapters are not tied together by a common thread. The result has echoes of headlines: `` Uncle Tom's Cabin was written in reverse order!'' Despite these quibbles, this book might well inspire readers to seek out the original texts. A good choice for public and school libraries.-- Peter Dollard, Alma Coll. Lib., Mich.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688119638
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/1/1993
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 317
  • Product dimensions: 5.79 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why Books Make a Difference 13
Ch. 1 Cosmographiae Introductio, 1507 21
Ch. 2 The Bay Psalm Book, 1640 25
Ch. 3 Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America, 1751-54 31
Ch. 4 Common Sense, 1776 37
Ch. 5 The Declaration of Independence, 1776 41
Ch. 6 Webster's Spelling Book, 1783 45
Ch. 7 The Federalist, 1787-88 51
Ch. 8 Arthur Mervyn, 1799-1800 55
Ch. 9 "The Star-Spangled Banner," 1814 59
Ch. 10 Commentaries on American Law, 1826-30 65
Ch. 11 The McGuffey Eclectic Readers, 1836-57 69
Ch. 12 Nature, 1836 75
Ch. 13 Two Years Before the Mast, 1840 81
Ch. 14 Woman in the Nineteenth Century, 1845 87
Ch. 15 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 1845 93
Ch. 16 "Civil Disobedience," 1849 97
Ch. 17 Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852 101
Ch. 18 The Gettysburg Address, 1863 107
Ch. 19 Kindergarten Culture, 1870 113
Ch. 20 Progress and Poverty, 1879 119
Ch. 21 A Century of Dishonor, 1881 125
Ch. 22 "The New Colossus," 1883 129
Ch. 23 Looking Backward, 1888 135
Ch. 24 The Gospel of Wealth, 1889 141
Ch. 25 How the Other Half Lives, 1890 147
Ch. 26 The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1890 153
Ch. 27 History of Woman Suffrage, 1881-1902 157
Ch. 28 Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, 1893 163
Ch. 29 Wealth Against Commonwealth, 1894 167
Ch. 30 The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1896 171
Ch. 31 "The Man with the Hoe," 1899 177
Ch. 32 Sister Carrie, 1900 183
Ch. 33 The Octopus, 1901 189
Ch. 34 The Souls of Black Folk, 1903 195
Ch. 35 The Shame of the Cities, 1904 201
Ch. 36 The History of the Standard Oil Company, 1904 207
Ch. 37 The Jungle, 1906 213
Ch. 38 The Great American Fraud, 1906 219
Ch. 39 Family Limitation, 1914 223
Ch. 40 The Grapes of Wrath, 1939 229
Ch. 41 The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, 1946 235
Ch. 42 The Silent Spring, 1962 239
Ch. 43 The Other America, 1962 245
Ch. 44 The Feminine Mystique, 1963 249
Ch. 45 The American Way of Death, 1963 253
Ch. 46 "Letter from Birmingham Jail," 1963 259
Ch. 47 Unsafe at Any Speed, 1965 265
Ch. 48 Equality of Educational Opportunity, 1966 271
Ch. 49 The Population Bomb, 1968 275
Ch. 50 The Pentagon Papers, 1971 279
Suggested Reading 285
Index 295
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