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American Gothic: A Life of American's Most Famous Painting Paperback – June 17, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0393328554 ISBN-10: 0393328554 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (June 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393328554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393328554
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #553,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“In his absorbing and often funny cultural study, Steven Biel traces the life of a painting that most of us have seen countless times but haven’t given much thought to . . . [he] persuasively shows how the multiple interpretations of the work's meanings reflect cultural shifts in American society.” (John McMurtrie - San Francisco Chronicle)

“A slim but jam-packed record of critical reaction.” (Matthew Price - Washington Post)

“A lively cultural history tracing the popular reception of Wood’s masterpiece that suggests how thoroughly the work has taken on a life of its own in the national imagination. . . . Biel argues persuasively that Wood's imaginative identification of Midwestern rectitude and repression with the American identity and character has become one of the work's most enduring legacies. . . . [A] rich, detailed portrait of a native masterpiece that is surely the most recognizable American artwork of the 20th century.” (Glenn McNatt - Baltimore Sun)

“[Biel] writes with wit and broad knowledge.” (Jeanine Basinger - New York Times)

About the Author

Steven Biel is the executive director of the Mahindra Humanities Center and a senior lecturer on history and literature at Harvard University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jane Harrison on March 9, 2007
I was excited to read this book because I have long considered American Gothic to be one of my favorite paintings. While there are other works that may stir me more emotionally, or I might find more artistically astounding, I like American Gothic because of its back-story and its humor. The figures seem so stern and judgmental, yet the models were just playing a role. Grant Wood had seen the American Gothic house in Iowa and tried to imagine what kind of people would live there.

In some ways it is less the painting itself, but rather all of the stories and history that surround the work that make it so interesting. This is the story that Steven Biel tells in his book. He starts with the house itself, and then explains the other ideas that influenced the work, the initial reception, subsequent interpretations, and the work's eventual status as an American icon. What is enjoyable about the book is that it provides lots of interesting factoids about the painting. What is disappointing is how little the book seemed to hold together as one narrative. With as much material as Biel had to work with, I didn't find American Gothic to be a particularly compelling read. It seemed short and disjointed, and was easy to put down. It was fun to find out so much about the painting, but in the end I found it unsatisfying.
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