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Dr. Seuss: American Icon Hardcover – December 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

He claimed that he used nonsense to "awaken the brain cells," and his work, whether the political cartoons that began his career, or the children's books for which he is most famous, provides ample evidence of his ability to keep readers on their toes. Timed to coincide with the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of "The U.S. Laureate of Nonsense," this abundantly documented critical study investigates not only Dr. Seuss' quirky art and inventive language but also how his inspired goofiness entered the mainstream of American culture. Nel eschews all but the most necessary details of Dr. Seuss' personal life, but, using numerous, specific examples of his writing and art, digs deeply into the work, including a particularly intriguing discussion of Dr. Seuss' pre- and post-World War II politics. With extensive documentation and a bibliography of nearly 100 pages, this isn't for the renowned doctor's casual fans. But even nonacademics will come away enlightened about the talented man who wanted to wake people up to events in the world and leave a moral legacy for children. Stephanie Zvirin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"A highly academic treatment of an 'American icon, American iconoclast' , this study contends with the work of Theodore Geisel, the 'U.S. Laureate of Nonsense', is worth taking seriously and has a great deal of underlying content." -Library Journal

“Mr. Nel has done his homework. His endnotes run on for almost 100 pages, boasting the first complete annotated bibliography of works by and about Dr. Seuss, and he draws on a wealth of esoteric knowledge…[M]ost valuable as a collection of Seussiana. The drawing and odd bits of trivial matter add unexpected life….” –The New York Sun, 3/2/04 (Mark Sorkin)

"Like The Cat in the Hat, which can be enjoyed by both parents and children, lay people and scholars, Nel's book neither forgets nor talks down to its audience. A fine example of scholarship, Dr. Seuss: American Icon will be equally at home on the researcher's bookshelf or the Seuss fan's coffee table. Well-written, well-argued, and well-conceived, Nel's good-humored book teaches a lesson of which Dr. Seuss would approve: good scholarship, like good literature, can be both rich and accessible. It's a lesson from which we all might learn." —Joseph T. Thomas, Jr., Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, (2004)

“…the present title is a welcome contribution to furthering understanding of both the range and power of Geisel’s oeuvre….varying thematic interpretations reveal Nel’s remarkably extensive research… Nel offers astute analyses of both racism and sexism in Geisel’s work… All this is richly illustrated with more than 30 reproductions… The invaluable 70-page annotated bibliography lists both primary works and secondary sources… Essential.” –Choice, October 2004 (CHOICE)

“Dr. Seuss: American Icon provides the reader a memorably excellent survey of Dr. Seuss’ many achievements.” –Library Bookwatch, November 2004

“Because Nel frames his discussion within contemporary criticism, his analysis is more important to children’s literature scholars in the academy.…he sprinkles the scholarly publications of other throughout his text, thus supporting his conclusions. His text is richly embedded with the earlier research of children’s literature scholars and ties into cultural aesthetics and children’s literature.…environmental ideal, and his markers of political protest in his images is most valuable.…they will have an important impact on further discussions of Dr. Seuss cartoonist, satirist, consumer magnate, and instigator of twenty-first-century aesthetics in American children’s culture.” –The Lion and the Unicorn, 1/05

"...very well conceivedtext. With its focus on Seuss's aesthetics, politics, and legacy in Americancultural life, Dr. Seuss: American Icon shouldappeal to Americanists and to children's literature scholars alike."- GwenAthene Tarbox, American Studies, Vol.47:2 (American Studies)

“…very well conceivedtext. With its focus on Seuss’s aesthetics, politics, and legacy in Americancultural life, Dr. Seuss: American Icon shouldappeal to Americanists and to children’s literature scholars alike.”- GwenAthene Tarbox, American Studies, Vol.47:2 (,)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Continuum; First Edition edition (December 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826414346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826414342
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,304,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Nel likes to read books. He also likes to write books. If you buy his books, then he will be able to write more books. So, please: Give generously. Thank you.

Since you are still reading this, you must be curious to learn more, have a high tolerance for the mundane, or all of the above. So. Here is more. The very first book Philip Nel read all by himself was Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham. He was three years old, and enjoyed the experience so much that the next thing he did was re-read the book.

In first grade, his favorite book was Jeff Brown's Flat Stanley. He briefly thought he could become two-dimensional, just like Flat Stanley. (He was wrong.) For more details, see Anita Silvey's Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book.

Because he cares about the quality of your personal library, he hopes you know that it (the library) would be incomplete without Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Ruth Krauss's The Carrot Seed.

Despite the fact that formal education held little interest for him until he went to college, he managed to become a university professor. I know, I know -- he's as surprised as you are.

If you punch his name into Google, you'll find traces of him all over the web. You'll also find other people named "Philip Nel." And many other items of dubious utility.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on September 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I don't care much for Dr. Seuss but after reading Philip Nel's book I changed my mind--that's a good testimonial to the power of Rel's writing and thinking. Rel plays Dr. Seuss the ultimate compliment of treating him as a serious poet as well as one of the 20th century's most interesting visual artists, and after reading his book I decided that a trip to the Mandeville Collections of the library at University of California in San Diego was in order, so I could visit some of the incredible Seuss/Geisel holdings they have there.

There's almost too much to take in, for, like William Butler Yeats, Seuss led a career that constantly shifted and metamoprhized itself to meet new historical and political cirsumstances, so he seems to have been both a leftist and a conservative at different junctures of his career, both in politics and in art. As Nel shows us, he was once a cartoonist for the fabled PM magazine and, like Andy Warhol, he served his time slaving in the ad business too. All was in the service of amusing and broadening the minds of US children. Nel doesn't hesitate to administer a sound spanking to the Seuss industry that, since his death, has seen fit to license all kinds of awful products including the recent CAT IN THE HAT film with Mike Myers. Oh, what a cat-astrophe!

The book is great and I can especially recommend the work of the picture editor who has given us a bounty of good illustrations.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Perry on July 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Theodore Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), aka "Dr. Seuss," was one of the most influential writers and artists of the 20th century.

In 1959, Rudolf Flesch wrote, "A hundred years from now, children and their parents will still eagerly read the books of a fellow called Ted Geisel, popularly known as Dr. Seuss."

Flesch was too conservative in his prediction. A century, and more, from today, Dr. Seuss will still be read when many authors on today's bestseller lists will be forgotten.

Published on the centenary of Geisel's birth, Dr. Seuss: American Icon analyzes six key aspects of Seuss's career: poetry, politics, art, biography, marketing, and influence.

In six insightful chapters, Philip Nel, Assistant Professor of English at Kansas State University, discusses "U.S. Laureate of Nonsense," "Dr. Seuss vs. Adolf Hitler," "The Doc in the Smock," "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. S.," "The Disneyfication of Dr. Seuss," and "The Cat in the Hat for President."

Nel gives short shrift to Geisel's childhood and family background--and, indeed, to biography in general--preferring to focus on Seuss's writing and art, from his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937) to his last book, Oh, the Places You'll Go! (1990).

Dr. Seuss's breakthrough year was 1957, when he published the two books with which he is most often identified: The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Other classic works in the Seussian canon are: Horton Hears a Who!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By John Granger on March 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If people become the books they read and if "the child is father to the man," then Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) is the most influential author, poet, and artist of modern times. For me, a daddy to a large family who learned to read with Dr. Seuss and who has memorized too many of the books via repeated readings to young children, Prof. Nel's brilliant 'American Icon' is a long awaited treat. At last a serious treatment of this remarkable genius that is both an engaging read and filled with remarkable insights! I especially enjoyed (and learned more than I care to admit from) Prof. Nel's discussions of the Disneyfication of Seuss - which Nel links to failings in American copyright law, "the other sides of Dr. Seuss" - all of which sides were new to me, and the political genesis of his secular morality in the WWII cartoon work he did at PM magazine. The chapters on Geisel's poetry and artwork and the link Nel makes between Seuss and the historical avant guarde alone make this book a "must buy" for parents and serious readers, not to mention public libraries. Readers of Nel's other books will find the same engaging writing style that makes the book a fun read while imparting a mountain of information and important ideas. This is simply the best and most comprehensive book yet written on the work of Seuss Geisel and what will certainly be the standard for many years to come. Thank you, Prof. Nel, wherever you are, from a reader who grew up with the good doctor and who is growing up with him again years later. Your book, written from your encyclopeadic knowledge of children's literature and the media of this genre - from scanning verse to cubist painting! - explains the power, limits, and popularity of the Seuss phenomenon.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By D. H. Richards on February 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Philip Nel - Dr. Seuss: American Icon

This is basically an academic overview of Seuss poetry, art, cartoons, and the problems with the commercialization of the Seuss name and works after his death. It is not, to any real extent, a biography. Those seeking such should move on.

As an academic book it leans on the dry side. It assumes the reader has a fairly good knowledge of Children's Literature and 20th Century cartoons (not the animated kind). Not a book to begin your Dr. Seuss experience with. But if you have read them to your children and are interested about the writing style (there is a good chapter about his poetry) or his art style (not as good a chapter, but still interesting).

What interested me the most was the deconstruction of the recent rush to "cash in" on Seuss by Hollywood and advertisers. I think that Nel wants to come down against it, but based on Seuss' background (he started out drawing Flit ads) and the projects he approved during his lifetime; it is a tough argument to make. In the end though Nel does point out that maybe the movies and tie- ins did not have to be so... crass?

The book is well researched; lots of neat tidbits are to be gleamed. Early cartoons by Seuss for PM magazine were occasionally (by today's standards) shockingly racist. It makes him a little more human and puts his latter works like the Lorax in a new light.

Those in Education may enjoy this background. Fans of Seuss will enjoy the exhaustive bibliography of Seuss's many, many works. Also good list of other works about the man.
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