From the Publisher
"It's unlikely that many of us have thought to connect Dirty Harry to Thomas Jefferson or Bill the Butcher to Frederick Jackson Turner, but somehow Jim Cullen makes such improbable pairings work in this heartfelt, enlightening book. Writing as both a fervent fan and a serious scholar, he deftly reveals how some of our greatest contemporary movie stars have played an important role as public historians."Steven Biel, author of American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting
"A Hollywood star's oeuvre is also a map of the world and a theory of history. Jim Cullen, a clear-sighted cultural cartographer, uses that central insight to change the way we think about the movies that form the backdrop of our national life."James T. Sparrow, author of Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government
"Sensing the Past will change the way readers think about movie stars and American history. Through a series of penetrating profiles, Jim Cullen examines how actors have embodied the central themes of our past and weds them to the present. Every page glistens with insights about actors we admire and movies we think we know."-Louis P. Masur, author of The Civil War: A Concise History
As Cullen (Born in the U.S.A.: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition) argues in this study, collective ideas and myths about history can be powerful enough to mold on an almost subconscious level a nation’s daily lives. To demonstrate, he discusses the career arcs of six Hollywood starsClint Eastwood, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Jodie Fosterand identifies what he calls “master narratives” of U.S. history that gradually emerged from their bodies of work. Cullen’s film analysis is down to earth yet sharp as he teases out common themes among seemingly divergent films. Still, he is not always mindful in adequately explaining the historical narratives themselves, with certain chapters relying too much upon biographical details. When Cullen properly balances analysis and context, the results are quite striking, including an outstanding chapter on the bonds between Day-Lewis’s films and historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s classic frontier thesis. Moreover, while this book is an academic work, Cullen’s approach is accessible as he outlines how historical thinking can work on an everyday level.
Verdict Students of American history and popular culture will benefit from Cullen’s creative scholarship.Chris Martin, North Dakota State Univ. Libs., Fargo
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