My American Century

Overview

August 1997

Born in 1912, Studs Terkel has witnessed the 20th century firsthand, commenting the entire way. For more than 30 years, millions of Americans have been moved by Terkel's oral histories, and in My American Century, he maintains the style that has made him an American icon. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author has now collected interviews with "ordinary" Americans to put together a compilation of his ...
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Overview

August 1997

Born in 1912, Studs Terkel has witnessed the 20th century firsthand, commenting the entire way. For more than 30 years, millions of Americans have been moved by Terkel's oral histories, and in My American Century, he maintains the style that has made him an American icon. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author has now collected interviews with "ordinary" Americans to put together a compilation of his best work.

With a forward by noted American historian Robert Coles, in which Coles places Terkel in the context of his times, the book is divided into three segments. Part 1, entitled "The Dream," examines Americans and their pursuit of dreams, some lost and some found. In this section, Terkel gives a broad perspective of American ideologies as he interviews, among others, a Native American teacher, a Horatio Alger Award-winning businessman, an ex-Klansman, and the former director of the Immigration and Naturalization Services. They each give a perspective on the American dream and whether it can be attained. Various everyday Americans -- including a hustler, a gangster, and a farmer -- also comment on the Great Depression; others give their views on the history of World War II.

The second section focuses on a few Americans, but this time they comment on the American city. Terkel includes interviews with a cabbie, a neighborhood crusader, a con man, and a landlady, to name just a few. The interviews then take a different perspective as they focus on working in the city. A waitress, an auto worker, a professional hockey player, and others express their views.

The third and final section of My American Century is entitled "The Divide." Here Terkel examines the prevalent divisions of American society. He uses the views of a farmer, a trader, a teamster, and others to look at the great divide that exists in American culture, and again to explore the American dream. Terkel then focuses on race divisions, interviewing a white mother of six, an African American, and a man of mixed race. The book concludes with the story of America and a few who have lived it, as he interviews a CEO, a writer, an artist, and an environmentalist.

Through these interviews, Studs Terkel paints an intimate portrait of modern America. The wide range of voices provide a panoramic chronicle of the American experience, from the 1920s on. Terkel has delighted readers with his past works, and with this new book he again proves why he is an American icon.

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Editorial Reviews

Doubletake
A summing up of the best of Terkel.
Entertainment Weekly
Oral histories excerpted from the great listener's previous eight books evoke a vanished pre-celeb pop culture.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It is 30 years ago that Terkel, then known as a radio interviewer, was persuaded by Andre Schiffrin of Pantheon to commit his remarkably plainspoken and telling interviews to print and weave them around a theme. The first theme was the life of ordinary people in Chicago, and the book, which won Terkel a Pulitzer Prize and lasting bestsellerdom, was Division Street: America. He recently celebrated his 85th birthday. This book, a kind of anthology of the best moments from all his previous works, is good to have. It carries an eloquent introduction by Robert Coles that places Terkel in the company of notable forebears such as James Agee, social commentators whose work helped change the world. It also has a new introduction by the author, who stresses, with his customary pithy vigor, the importance of people being able to change and to go on contributing to life, not despite, but because of, increasing age.

As in his last book, The Coming of Age, it is the lack of a sense of history, of a sense of the immemorial resilience (and frequent contrariness) of the human spirit, that most troubles Terkel about our current times; and as always his work, while utterly realistic, is an antidote to despair. This collection, arranged chronologically by the periods the books covered, not by the dates of their original publication, is the best possible introduction to his splendid body of work.

Library Journal
This book is a collection of Terkel's encounters over his long career as the nation's premier oral historian. Described by Terkel as a 'jazz work,' it is made up of material taken from the author's major books: Hard Times,Working, The Good War, Chicago, and The Great Divide. Turkel's greatest accomplishment in all his books is his ability to concentrate on the individuals telling their story, a technique that leads to a deeper understanding of history as seen through the eyes of ordinary people.The packaging of Terkel's work in one volume makes for a convenient and accessible title that recognizes the human side of history. -- Robert J. Favini, Bentley College Library, Waltham, Massachusetts
Library Journal
This book is a collection of Terkel's encounters over his long career as the nation's premier oral historian. Described by Terkel as a 'jazz work,' it is made up of material taken from the author's major books: Hard Times,Working, The Good War, Chicago, and The Great Divide. Turkel's greatest accomplishment in all his books is his ability to concentrate on the individuals telling their story, a technique that leads to a deeper understanding of history as seen through the eyes of ordinary people.The packaging of Terkel's work in one volume makes for a convenient and accessible title that recognizes the human side of history. -- Robert J. Favini, Bentley College Library, Waltham, Massachusetts
From Barnes & Noble
Millions of readers have enjoyed the groundbreaking and provocative oral stories of Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Studs Terkel, for more than 30 years. Now, his most memorable interviews with "ordinary" Americans from each of his eight classic works are compiled in one complete volume. My American Century offers a treasury of Terkel's best that will delight those who have read his books before and those who are experiencing him for the first time.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565843653
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 8/28/1997
  • Pages: 532
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 1.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel
One of the greatest oral historians of the 20th century, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, actor, and broadcaster Studs Terkel was a national treasure and a beloved institution in his native Chicago. His award-winning books, based on conversations with Americans from all walks of life, form a unique chronicle of a nation in the throes of socio-political change.

Biography

As a young boy in the early 1920s, Louis "Studs" Terkel moved with his family from New York to Chicago, the sprawling, high-energy city he would call home for the rest of his life. His parents managed hotels catering to a varied and colorful clientele. Listening to the conversations of the tenants, young Terkel developed an early interest in people and their stories and a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity that would lead him in many directions.

He received his law degree from the University of Chicago, but never became a practicing attorney, Instead, he worked briefly in Washington, D.C., then returned to Chicago to take a job in FDR's Works Progress Administration acting and writing plays. In 1939, he married Ida Goldberg. The marriage endured for 60 years, until Ida's death in 1999. He joined the Army during WWII but was discharged because of perforated eardrums. Around this time, he embarked on a long, varied broadcasting career as a sportscaster, news commentator, and disc jockey. He ventured into TV in the 1950s with a relaxed, breezy variety show that helped define the Chicago School of Television, but returned to radio in 1952 with the a daily program of music and interviews that continued for the next 45 years. Among a constellation of memorable guests were Buster Keaton, Billie Holiday, James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, Gloria Steinem, and Bob Dylan.

Although his first book Giants of Jazz was published in 1957, Terkel's writing career began in earnest a decade later with Division Street, a book of transcribed interviews with Chicagoans from every walk of life. Hailed by The New Yorker as "totally absorbing," this groundbreaking study paved the way for bestselling oral histories of the Great Depression (Hard Times), the working class (Working), WWII (the Pulitzer Prize winner The Good War), and growing old in America (Coming of Age). He also penned several memoirs, including Talking to Myself (1977), My American Century (1997), and Touch and Go (2007).

Active and engaged to the end, Terkel died in October of 2008 at the age of 96. In its obituary, the Chicago Tribune reprinted this epigrammatic quote from the iconic writer: "My epitaph? My epitaph will be, 'Curiosity did not kill this cat."

Good To Know

Terkel's famous nickname derives from the fictional character Studs Lonigan from James T. Farrell's 1930s coming-of-age trilogy.

Famously outspoken, Terkel was blacklisted from television during the McCarthy era for his "incendiary" political views. Fortunately, he found a wider audience when he was hired by Chicago's fine arts radio station WFMT, where his program was a daily staple for 45 years.

Instantly recognizable by his attire, Terkel always wore a red-checked shirt, grey trousers, and a blue blazer.

He appeared in Eight Men Out, John Sayles's 1988 film about the Chicago Black Sox Scandal of 1919.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Louis "Studs" Terkel
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 16, 1912
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Death:
      October 31, 2008
    2. Place of Death:
      Chicago, IL

Table of Contents

Foreword
Introduction 3
Note 19
American Dreams: Lost and Found (1980)
Vine Deloria, Native American author and teacher 34
Andy Johnson, hardscrabble Finnish immigrant 38
Wallace Rasmussen, Horatio Alger Award winner 42
Vernon Jarrett, African-American newspaperman 49
C. P. Ellis, former Klansman 62
Leonel I. Castillo, former director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service 77
Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970)
Introduction: A Personal Memoir (and Parenthetical Comment) 83
Ed Paulsen, freight-train rider 91
Arthur A. Robertson, mogul 99
Clifford Burke, hustler 105
Doc Graham, gangster 107
Oscar Heline, farmer 120
Jane Yoder, daughter of a WPA worker 126
Tom Yoder, Jane's son 130
Jerome Zerbe, society's photographer 130
Peggy Terry and her mother, Mary Owsley, mountain people 137
We Still See Their Faces: Introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of The Grapes of Wrath 147
"The Good War": An Oral History of World War II (1984)
Bob Rasmus, rifleman 177
Peggy Terry, "hillbilly" 189
E. B. (Sledgehammer) Sledge, Marine 196
Peter Ota, Nisei 205
Betty Basye Hutchinson, nurse 211
Division Street: America (1967)
Florence Scala, neighborhood crusader 226
Dennis Hart, cabbie 236
Lucy Jefferson, migrant from Mississippi 244
Kid Pharaoh, con man 252
Tom Kearney, cop 262
Chester Kolar, next-door neighbor 272
George Malley (a.k.a. Henry Lorenz), blue-collar worker 273
Eva Barnes, landlady 282
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1972)
Mike Lefevre, steelworker 319
Dolores Dante, waitress 329
Roberto Acuna, farm worker 336
Eric Nesterenko, pro hockey player 346
Phil Stallings, auto worker 354
Tom Patrick, fireman 360
The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream (1988)
Caroll Nearmyer, family farmer 393
Rex Winship, trader 400
Sam Talbert, teamster 410
Larry Heinemann, Vietnam War veteran 416
Jean Gump, suburban grandmother 421
Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession (1992)
Joseph Lattimore, African-American 450
Diane Romano, white mother of six 459
Lloyd King, mixed race 467
Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century By Those Who Have Lived It (1995)
Bessie Doenges, writer 495
Jack Culberg, CEO 504
Genora Johnson Dollinger, remembering the 1937 sit-down strike 511
Jacob Lawrence, artist 521
David Brower, environmentalist 526
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Interviews & Essays


Before the live bn.com chat, Studs Terkel agreed to answer some of our questions:

Q: What makes oral history more powerful to you than the standard academic historical approach?

A: It is the human voice that is so impelling -- and so close to the truth. It is the word out of the mouth of a participant in the events of our century, the anonymous face in the crowd, who has a voice seldom heard.

Q: If you had to name one person, who would you consider the most influential historical figure of the 20th century?

A: I can't name one. The works of all are interrelated. Einstein, Gandhi, Freud, Roosevelt, Hitler -- as well as Peggy Terry, of 5th grade education, who became the voice of all the mountain people of our country, and all the Peggy Terrys of the world.

Q: Being in the radio business for so long and having heard the changing voices on the air, what do you think of the current state of radio, and whom do you regularly listen to on the radio (if anybody)?

A: It's in pretty bad shape: fewer and fewer in control more and more, and so the only criteria are ratings and profit. Public radio is the exception. I like Scott Simon.

Q: How do you think President Clinton is faring in his second term?

A: If I were up against it -- say a single mother with a child to support -- he's not doing so hot. If I were a corporate CEO, I'd say Bill is doing fine.

Q: Is there anyone whom you'd love to interview but have been unable to?

A: There are a good number of people whom I'd love to have interviewed, but they're all dead: George Bernard Shaw, Picasso, Mark Twain, etc.


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