Dreaming Up America

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As America undergoes global scrutiny, acclaimed novelist Russell Banks contemplates the questions of our origins, values, heroes, conflicts, and contradictions. He writes with conversational ease and emotional insight, drawing on contemporary politics, literature, film, and his knowledge of American history. Banks shows how the differing motives of the first colonists, the influence of slavery and African-American culture, and the intermingling of destructive and creative forces...
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Dreaming Up America

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As America undergoes global scrutiny, acclaimed novelist Russell Banks contemplates the questions of our origins, values, heroes, conflicts, and contradictions. He writes with conversational ease and emotional insight, drawing on contemporary politics, literature, film, and his knowledge of American history. Banks shows how the differing motives of the first colonists, the influence of slavery and African-American culture, and the intermingling of destructive and creative forces have changed us.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Two years ago, novelist Banks was interviewed by French television for a documentary about American history. His testimony so impressed Banks's French publisher that he made a book out of his remarks, translated into French, co-released with the documentary. Now Banks's words have returned stateside. Unfortunately, they do not travel well. Letting a gifted storyteller like Banks have a go at telling the story of America isn't a bad idea—his voice is appealing, and the brevity and scope of his tale are bracing. As condensed histories go, this is a good one. Banks creates a clear and simple dynamic, identifying three original dreams—for profit, for religious freedom, for eternal youth—that have struggled within our body politic throughout our history. His text, however, betrays a dogmatic agenda—left of center, antiwar and self-righteous—undermining the simplicity that might otherwise be a virtue. Fuzzy generalizations like "Americans have always believed in the almost spiritual beauty of machinery" give way to harsh indictments of presidents Wilson, Reagan and the Bushes, as the charming historical survey turns shrill ("Rockefeller didn't believe in the American dream, but everyone who worked for him did"). Banks is eloquent here, but in a sense perhaps unintended, he's dreaming. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Best-selling novelist Banks's (Cloudsplitter; The Sweet Hereafter ) first work of nonfiction was developed from a television interview with a French documentary producer two years ago, which was translated into French and is now available in English in the United States. Originally directed to a French audience to describe the history of the American people, the content is nonetheless enlightening to Americans, too. The book presents, essentially, an interdisciplinary overview of America from Colonial times to the present and America's development out of spiritual, ethical, and materialistic impulses. Banks's narrative is not always flattering, as he dissects our national myths and exposes the realities, but it may nudge readers to take an introspective look at themselves and our nation. The book is also not comprehensive, but it is a condensed and holistic construct of American history, eloquently written and highly readable. Banks ends with an implicit warning about our nationalism, which he describes as a destructive force, a fervor and mass hallucination, that can control our thinking. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Mark Alan Williams, Library of Congress

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781583228388
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2008
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Russell Banks
Best known for gritty novels like Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks is one of America's most prestigious fiction writers. He is president of the International Parliament of Writers and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into 20 languages and has received numerous international prizes and awards. He lives in upstate New York.


Born in New England on March 28, 1940, Russell Banks was raised in a hardscrabble, working-class world that has profoundly shaped his writing. In Banks's compassionate, unlovely tales, people struggle mightily against economic hardship, family conflict, addictions, violence, and personal tragedy; yet even in the face of their difficulties, they often exhibit remarkable resilience and moral strength.

Although he began his literary career as a poet, Banks forayed into fiction in 1975 with a short story collection Searching for Survivors and his debut novel, Family Life. Several more critically acclaimed works followed, but his real breakthrough occurred with 1985's Continental Drift, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel that juxtaposes the startlingly different experiences of two families in America. In 1998, he earned another Pulitzer nomination for his historical novel Cloudsplitter, an ambitious re-creation of abolitionist John Brown.

Since the 1980s, Banks has lived in upstate New York -- a region he (like fellow novelists William Kennedy and Richard Russo) has mined to great effect in several novels. Two of his most powerful stories, Affliction (1990) and The Sweet Hereafter (1991), have been adapted for feature films. (At least two others have been optioned.) He has also received numerous honors and literary awards, including the prestigious John Dos Passos Prize for fiction.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      March 28, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newton, Massachusetts

Table of Contents

Reel 1 The Earliest Signs of an American Sensibility 1

Reel 2 The Power of Words 19

Reel 3 Conquest of the Imagination 37

Reel 4 Of Man and Machines 53

Reel 5 A Very Peculiar Institution 69

Reel 6 The Dark Side Only Gets Darker 89

Reel 7 The Shifting Center 101

Reel 8 What for, Where to 115

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2008

    Dreaming of America

    A mythical book about the American Dream, or in Russell Banks lexicon--the American Dreams. In his theory, there was the Spanish idea for profit--the El Dorado American Dream-- the Ponce De Leon dream for eternal youth--the Fountain of Youth-- and also the consummate English search for religious freedom. He said eventually these all came together to find the uniqueness of the American Dream. This book was very charming, as it offers insights that are totally unique compared to the usual pavulum of other writers. However, he goes on unneccessary tirades against the Bushes, Reagan, and Kennedy. It offers a thing for history buffs that isn't brought back in usual American history books--the spiritual knowledge of America.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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