The 42nd Parallel: The U.S.A. Trilogy, Volume 1

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Overview

With his U.S.A. trilogy, comprising THE 42nd PARALLEL, 1919, and THE BIG MONEY, John Dos Passos is said by many to have written the great American novel. While Fitzgerald and Hemingway were cultivating what Edmund Wilson once called their "own little corners," John Dos Passos was taking on the world. Counted as one of the best novels of the twentieth century by the Modern Library and by some of the finest writers working today, U.S.A. is a grand, kaleidoscopic portrait of a ...

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The 42nd Parallel

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Overview

With his U.S.A. trilogy, comprising THE 42nd PARALLEL, 1919, and THE BIG MONEY, John Dos Passos is said by many to have written the great American novel. While Fitzgerald and Hemingway were cultivating what Edmund Wilson once called their "own little corners," John Dos Passos was taking on the world. Counted as one of the best novels of the twentieth century by the Modern Library and by some of the finest writers working today, U.S.A. is a grand, kaleidoscopic portrait of a nation, buzzing with history and life on every page.

The trilogy opens with THE 42nd PARALLEL, where we find a young country at the dawn of the twentieth century. Slowly, in stories artfully spliced together, the lives and fortunes of five characters unfold. Mac, Janey, Eleanor, Ward, and Charley are caught on the storm track of this parallel and blown New Yorkward. As their lives cross and double back again, the likes of Eugene Debs, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie make cameo appearances.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The single greatest novel any of us have written, yes, in this country in the last one hundred years."—Norman Mailer
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618056811
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/28/2000
  • Series: U.S.A. Trilogy , #1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 167,790
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

John Dos Passos (1896-1970), a member of the Lost Generation, was the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction, including THREE SOLDIERS and MANHATTAN TRANSFER.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 8 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Husky, Brawling Book

    How Dos Passos ever fell into obscurity is a mystery, but whatever the reason, the public's amnesia seems to be set - and unfair. 'The 42nd parallel' and the trilogy it belongs to are comparable to the best from the era, and deserve a better fate than consignment to a literary footnote.

    Dos Passos' collage style is original and inspiring - a modern synthesis of technique that combined traditional narrative; snatches of popular culture; miniature, slanted biographies; and stream-of-conscious personal memories of the author. However, if all there were to Dos Passos was innovative writing, then his anonymity might be understandable, if not justifiable - but his perceptive commentary on the American identity sets the author's work apart as a landmark. Though there are few who could verify it, Dos Passos creates an air of authenticity about the era of which he writes that his work almost demands attention from both the amateur and serious historian as a reference for larger events. In fact, he catapults the first quarter of the 20th century out of dusty textbooks and infuses it, through fiction, with the muscular energy that non-fiction often lacks. Yet the authority of his style - direct and unvarnished, and without assigning literary motive to his character's actions - comes across as plainspoken as if reading a journal of one of our own ancestors.

    What a refreshing change from the contrived manipulations of a standard novel. There is no plot to 'The 42nd Parallel'. Instead, Dos Passos gives us five characters who are captives of their time and place, and whose daily concerns are a mixture of current events and the familiar foibles of humanity. Beginning in the last days of the 19th century, he follows these selected few up until America's deployment of the A.E.F. to France in 1917. With other historical fictions, I would expect these character's lives to intersect in meaningful, portentous ways - but Dos Passos' aim isn't to provide values or illustrate consequences to the audience through the vehicle of his writing. Instead, he is a chronicler of the common man's experience in America at the turn of the century.

    As time eclipsed Dos Passos, so too did future events overshadow the period of history he wrote about, but much of the groundwork for the volatility and carnage later on was laid in the first decades of the century. One of the most beguiling aspects of the novel was reading about these opening salvos in the coming struggles - but from the ground's eye view, so to speak, of the everyman, who couldn't know about the storms on the horizon because Dos Passos didn't know about them, thereby eliminating artificially prescient motives, or moralizing in hindsight. In the hands of an artisan such as Dos Passos, it is a relief and a revelation to read about his people - they come by their ham-fisted mistakes honestly.

    Carl Sandburg once referred to Chicago as "husky, brawling, the city of the big shoulders." As I read 'The 42nd Parallel', that phrase kept returning to my mind - except Dos Passos projected it across a nation, and it reminds me of hard work, and industry. It was a time of titanic production and change, but instead of presenting it as a mythic golden age, Dos Passos gives it to us in all its dirty honesty, and makes me realize how the roiling tide of the past pounded our present into shape. Forgotten or not, that's great literature to me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2014

    To understand America in 2014, one must understand what it was 1

    To understand America in 2014, one must understand what it was 100 years ago. That was when the momentous decisions were made--on war, on labor, on women's rights, on civil rights--decisions that defined the country in which we live today.

    Now understand this: America had a chronicler at work in John Dos Passos who captured what was &quot;really&quot; going on in the country, layers below the Carnegies, the Roosevelts and others in whom history puts its trust. In creating <i>The 42nd Parallel</i>
    , Dos Passos uses myriad conventions to capture the U.S.A. of the age: &quot;newsreels&quot; that put the reader in the spirit of the age through an abstract collage of headlines and story excerpts, &quot;the camera eye&quot; which uses song lyrics and longer excerpts (they reminded me of the front sections of People Magazine today), a series of biographical sketches of significant men of the age, and a cleverly aligned series of character sketches.

    Individually, the scenes would have been illustrative, good writing. Combined, however, they create a five-star classic which is a must-read for Americans interested in this crucial era in their nation's culture and history.

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