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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.
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.
|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|
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.