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An American Tragedy (RosettaBooks into Film) [Kindle Edition]

Theodore Dreiser
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy (1925) is nothing less than what the title holds it to be; it is the story of a weak-willed young man who is both villain and victim (the victim of a valueless, materialistic society) and someone who ultimately destroys himself. Dreiser modeled the story of Clyde Griffiths on a real-life murder that took place in 1906; a young social climber of considerable charm murdered his pregnant girlfriend to get her out of the way so that he could instead play to the affections of a rich girl who had begun to notice him.

But An American Tragedy is more than simply a powerful murder story. Dreiser pours his own dark yearnings into his character, Clyde Griffiths, as he details the young man's course through his ambitions of wealth, power, and satisfaction.

The Indiana-born Dreiser (1871-1945) has never cut a dashing or romantic swath through American literature. He has no Pulitzer or Nobel Prize to signify his importance. Yet he remains for myriad reasons: his novels are often larger than life, rugged, and defy the norms of conventional morality and organized religion. They are unapologetic in their sexual candor--in fact, outrightly frank--and challenge even modern readers. The brooding force of Dreiser's writing casts a dark shadow across American letters.

Here in An American Tragedy, Dreiser shows us the flip side of The American Dream in a gathering storm that echoes with all of the power and force of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Inspired by the writings of Balzac and the ideas of Spenser and Freud, Dreiser went on to become one of America's best naturalist writers. An American Tragedy is testimony to the strength of Dreiser's work: it retains all of its original intensity and force.


Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser (1871-1945) was an American novelist and journalist best known for his pioneer work in the naturalist school. His writing often portrays characters whose strength lies not in their moral code or ethics, but instead in their absolute persistence as they are confronted by all obstacles; their unwillingness to yield. These are situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of choice and agency.

Dreiser's first commercial success was An American Tragedy (1925), which was made into a film in 1931 and again in 1951 (as A Place in the Sun). An opera was also commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in 2005.

Literary critic Irving Howe said of Dreiser that he was, "among the American giants, one of the very few American giants we have had," and one of Dreiser's chief advocates during his lifetime was H.L. Mencken who said, "that he is a great artist, and that no other American of his generation left so wide and handsome a mark upon the national letters."


From classic book to classic film, RosettaBooks has gathered some of most memorable books into film available. The selection is broad ranging and far reaching, with books from classic genre to cult classic to science fiction and horror and a blend of the two creating whole new genres like Richard Matheson's The Shrinking Man. Classic works from Vonnegut, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, meet with E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. Whether the work is centered in the here and now, in the past, or in some distant and almost unimaginable future, each work is lasting and memorable and award-winning.

Editorial Reviews Review

Theodore Dreiser set out to create an epic character and, in the form of Clyde Griffiths in An American Tragedy, he succeeded. Griffiths is just a Midwest kid, the son of a preacher in Kansas City, who tastes a little sophistication and then hits the road seeking pleasure and success. He has his moments, conducting more than one romantic affair, until that ill-advised pursuit ensnares him. Then he reads about an "accident" of a young woman and ponders a dastardly deed ... Dreiser spins these scenes with the eye of a master in control of his form. An American Tragedy stands as an American masterpiece.


Mr. Dreiser is not imitative and belongs to no school. He is at heart a mysticist and a fatalist, though using the realistic method. He is a totally undisciplined, unorganized power--yet, on the evidence of this novel alone, nonetheless a power. -- The New York Times Book Review, Robert L. Duffus

Product Details

  • File Size: 1363 KB
  • Print Length: 556 pages
  • Publisher: RosettaBooks (January 14, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,210 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
155 of 167 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long but Worthy July 5, 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) is one of the giants of American letters. His novel "Sister Carrie," written in 1900, is a cathedral of naturalist literature. Almost as epic as his novels was the constant state of warfare that existed between Dreiser and publishers who consistently refused to publish his books because of the shocking themes the author wrote about. One of his biggest battles involved "An American Tragedy," a sprawling book based on a real murder case that occurred in New York at the beginning of the 20th century. Dreiser used the Chester Gillette/Grace Brown episode as the basis for a story that strongly criticized America's infatuation with materialism and social status. In the Gillette case, a young dandy with an eye for the ladies impregnated a young woman and then drowned her in a lake when her condition threatened to put an end to his social life. During the subsequent trial of Chester Gillette, all of America readily soaked up the sordid details of the case. Gillette, vehemently denying that he had anything to do with Grace Brown's murder despite his conviction on a first-degree murder charge, died in the electric chair at Auburn State Prison on March 30, 1908. Dreiser went to such lengths investigating the case for his book that he even took his wife out on the lake where Gillette committed his crime, apparently worrying his spouse that he might recreate the crime.
In "An American Tragedy," Chester Gillette becomes Clyde Griffiths, the son of itinerant evangelists who roam the country operating missions for the destitute. His parents often take Clyde and his siblings out on the streets of the city in order to sing hymns and hand out religious tracts. While in Kansas City, Clyde reaches the age of sixteen and decides to strike out on his own.
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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Simple Plan January 6, 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The film "A Simple Plan" could have easily been called "An American Tragedy," and the book "An American Tragedy" could have just as easily been called "A Simple Plan." The plan at the book's center seems so simple indeed. The novel's protagonist, Clyde Griffiths, impregnates a girl below his social station, and he's so terrified by the idea of being exposed and ruining his chances at a life as part of the social elite (and losing the local well-to-do beauty to whom he's hitched himself) that he actually finds himself driven to kill her as his only escape. But Clyde has a simple mind, and his efforts to claw his way out of a desperate situation that inexorably suffocates him is compelling fiction.
Theodore Dreiser has been called one of the worst great writers in the history of literature, and that claim is justified. He can hardly compose a sentence that doesn't drop like lead from the tongue. He's especially fond of the double negative, which can become pretty tedious in a 900+ page novel. And in retrospect, the amount of plot on display in his novel does not seem to warrant its length, but somehow, I was able to overcome these two factors and find myself engrossed in it anyway. It doesn't for one second become boring or slow. And it offers some especially candid and frank ideas about the nature of guilt and the culpability of those who take lives, whether they're working on the side of crime or the law. Most fascinating for me were the novel's final pages, when Clyde tries to turn to religion for solace when he's at his loneliest, but can't get around the notion that there's really nothing to turn to.
Dreiser pulls off quite a feat by making all of his characters sympathetic.
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars American dream, American nightmare... September 11, 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Inspired by the sensational details from a famous 1906 murder case -- in which a young man named Chester Gillette killed his girlfriend Grace Brown for being 'inconveniently' pregnant -- Theodore Dreiser had all the elements to paint a great portrait of American society on its rise as an industrial power at the turn of the 20th century.

The social barriers between the poor and the (new) rich, the tugging materialism, and an underlying puritanism made up the social fabric around which Dreiser recreated Clyde Griffiths as Gillette and Roberta Alden as Brown. Driven by their human impulses and then trapped by social and moral prejudices, the outcome was a monumental tragedy of wasted young lives for both characters.

This novel is long (over 800 pages), and the writing style is torturous. It could probably be more appreciated for its social-historical value than as 'classic literature'. If you haven't read anything by Dreiser previously, you may want to try 'Sister Carrie' before tackling this one.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars STOP! Don't read any summaries, just read the book. December 31, 2011
By Roman
I chose this book simply because it was on Modern Library's 100 Greatest books of the 20th century list. I knew nothing about the author and from the title and the summary on the back, knew only that probably something bad would happen. This is the way to read the book.

People have said that it is overly long or wordy. It may seem like this in the begining, but even at this part the book is not boring or dry. It is the story of a boy growing and maturing at this point, and it is precisely this personal growth (in detail) that makes the book so powerful. You, as the reader, become one with the protagonist because you have witnessed his entire life.

The preface in the version I read said something to the effect that the story builds slowly like a tsunami, finally striking you with all that built-up force. I am a 29 year old male who does not often cry, and I was in tears for the last hour of this book. After finishing I looked at myself in the mirror and I was shaking and my eyes were completely bloodshot. My only thought was what a terrible book that was, and why anyone would write something like this.

I read a lot of the supposed "best books" like the ones on the Modern Library list, and this is the most immediately powerful novel I have ever read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest book I've ever read.
Read it first when I was a young man and never forgot how great it was. Read it now at 73 and it is still as powerful. Yes, it's long, but with whispersync it can be managed. Read more
Published 7 hours ago by Lyle Young
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoy watching the main character go step by step to the...
The book is a classic that I somehow failed to read when I was young, which is probably a good thing-- I doubt that I would have fully appreciated it then. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Charles W. Long
4.0 out of 5 stars inspiring
I have read this book three times, first in hard cover, then paperback, and lastly on my kindle. It should be required reading for all high school students.
Published 12 days ago by Margie
5.0 out of 5 stars Great backstories for the fabulous film based on this book
Terrific character development and storyline. The religious related aspects (especially near the ending) were a little too detailed for my taste, but they did relate to the... Read more
Published 24 days ago by Hedcap
2.0 out of 5 stars Ending ruined the whole book for me
I actually liked about the first 2/3 of this book. However, when it came to the ending it became a big, religious diatribe.
Published 27 days ago by carol coltharp
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book
If you have seen the movie a Place in the Sun on TCM, this book, from which the movie is modeled quite exactly,may cause you to feel there is no real reason to read it. Read more
Published 28 days ago by Priamsdaughter
5.0 out of 5 stars Great masterpiece
I cannot believe that I have waited this long to read this book. A Place in the Sun is one of my favorite movies and I knew that it was based on this book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Nancy D. Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Tragedy
We shouldn't sympathize with the main character of this story, but I found it impossible not to hope for redemption. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Katrina
5.0 out of 5 stars So Many Pages!
When this book arrived I was put off. Over 800 pages. Well,I started to read it and read til my eyes blurred. Read more
Published 2 months ago by michael
5.0 out of 5 stars Clyde was truly an American tragedy
I finally got around to reading the book that was adapted into one of my most cherished movies. I have seen "A Place in the Sun" many times and own the CD and so I confess I was... Read more
Published 2 months ago by barbara kirkpatrick
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