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Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization) Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0674390775 ISBN-10: 0674390776

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Product Details

  • Series: The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization (Book 1988)
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674390776
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674390775
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Levine contends that early 19th-century America was characterized by no rigid cultural divisions between elite and mass culture. By the later part of the century, however, a clear line had been drawn; Shakespearean plays, classical music, and art of the old masters increasingly became the property of the elite only. The pendulum has swung back now, he observves, as there is a lessening of cultural divisions in contemporary America. A well-written contribution to the history of American culture. Without hestitation, this book is recommended highly to all academic American studies and popular culture collections as well as to large public libraries. Susan A. Stussy, St. Norbert Coll., De Pere, Wis.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Provides just the kind of balanced, historically informed assessment that can be of immediate value at a time when appeals to eternal truth fly thick and fast. (Walter Kendrick Village Voice Literary Supplement)

We can all appreciate a scholar who bites the process that feeds him. Highbrow/Lowbrow sinks its teeth into our smug cultural assumptions and holds on for dear life. (Carlin Romano Washington Post Book World)

[This book] provides depth and complexity to a debate that has degenerated into stale polemics. By unearthing a wealth of fascinating details about American culture in the middle and later nineteenth century, Levine shows us how much has changed en route to the twentieth. In particular, he reveals how recently the categories of "high" and "low" culture came into being, and how thoroughly they were shaped by class prejudice and ethnocentric anxiety...Highbrow/Lowbrow is absorbing and provocative, clearly a product of humane judgment and mature reflection, and a pleasure to read. (Jackson Lears Tikkun)

How we Americans came to treat symphony and chamber concerts and operas as if we were going to church is an interesting tale. For a most thorough and informative discussion, please read Lawrence Levine's witty book. (Willa J. Conrad Newark Star-Ledger)

Levine offers a fascinating account of the nation's evolving artistic tastes and thereby challenges any aesthetic storm trooper who would try to enforce an oversimplified notion of Culture with a capital C...What [he] proves, compellingly, is that we should be less rigid in our aesthetic judgments. (Lisa Zeidner Philadelphia Inquirer)

Levine's lucid, mind-stretching and highly accessible scholarship describes how, by the late nineteenth century, American culture divided into high art and low, two warring camps. (Newsday)

Remarkably interesting. (Fredric Paul Smoler Nation)

This book, like all of Levine's work, invites us out to play. His writing is highly engaging, his argumentativeness provocative. Even in his lament he gives us hope, for he has written a high-minded and very American defense of the unforeclosed and pluralist potential of democratic culture. (Michael Fellman American Historical Review)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Levine is one of the great historians, having done his featured work on African American history and culture.
Tony Thomas
By contrast, Higginson believed that it was sacrilege to play anything other than classical music in its original form and pandered to the more cultured of society.
M. P. Procter Sr.
Levine has written a book that serves both as a history lesson as well as a hopeful plea to reconsider our cultural biases as constructs of our own doing.
Rebecca M

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Miss Otis on December 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
The Scene: Three months before my qualifying exams. I have crammed every book on theatre I can think of. I have notecards that I memorize. I have no love of theatre anymore, no interest in the subject, just trying to get through the ordeal that so many of my friends have failed. I don't allow myself to read books for fun, or all the way through. I only skim for facts to drop.
One day this book arrives in the mail with several others I've ordered. I dutifully skim it for facts to put on my notecards. I find myself being drawn in. It is academic reading--I couldn't imagine that it could be all that enjoyable. More importantly I don't have time to enjoy a book. But I am enjoying it, so I decide to let myself really read the first chapter (on Shakespeare).
I can't put it down. I'm reading about museums now, public parks, things that I will never be able to use on my exams, but I love the way he thinks! Not only am I loving Levine's incredible book, but I am even excited about my field again. Levine's book is an incredible gift, a gift that helped me renew my delight in what scholarship and history can do. A model I will never live up to, but will cherish and delight in. And I did pass, quoting Levine not to impress, but out of a real delight in the field and the joy of sharing ideas.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By M. P. Procter Sr. VINE VOICE on June 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
Spanning over one hundred and fifty years, Lawrence W. Levine's Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America, charts the development of culture beginning in the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. In Highbrow/Lowbrow, Levine tells the reader through various examples how the United States began with forms of culture celebrated by most of the countryside's population through the years where cultural classes developed and finally to the point where some cultural subjects nearly died off. Through narrow fields of entertainment, he is able to define what was and was not popular culture; how various forms of cultural entertainment were performed and watched or listened to by the general public; and how several key people in the late nineteenth century helped preserve art forms that still exist today. Three distinct areas are covered in the book's three chapters: Chapter One, "William Shakespeare in America" focuses on the popularity and decline of the performance of Shakespeare's works; Chapter Two, "The Sacralization of Culture" highlights the development and developing highbrow status of symphonies and orchestras; and Chapter Three, "Order, Hierarchy and Culture" describes how culture evolved from entertainment for many to culture for few. Lastly, an epilogue from the author briefly expands on culture today versus culture in the past century.

"William Shakespeare in America" chronicles the rise and fall of the performance of Shakespearean plays in the United States from after the Revolutionary War until the end of the nineteenth century. Dramatic performances of Shakespeare were not the norm for the most part, but "...burlesques and parodies...constituted a prominent form of entertainment..." throughout the country.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By P. Y. Yeh on December 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
Levine's study indeed had its influence in helping the general public understand the highbrow vs. lowbrow culture; however, there are more vital elements added into the popular culture over changes of time. Whoever appreciates Levine's work will find a greater enjoyment in Swirski's latest book "From Lowbrow to Nobrow". Its up-to-date and valuable insights will help us gain a much deeper understanding about the popular culture of today. It presents more diversities, more profound explanations and more hard evidences. The analysis is sharp and the writing is enjoyabel and neat. If you like Levine, you shouldn't miss Swirski.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tony Thomas on July 15, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Simply put, across the late 19th Century the newly consolidate ruling class of industrial and financial magnates seized control over the definitions of culture, established an iron wall between high and low culture, moved to change the relationship between audience and performer, and between performers and those who dicated culture and owned cultural institutions, and changed museums and libraries from institutions established to broaden knowledge for all into places where the elite contemplate perfection.

Levine is one of the great historians, having done his featured work on African American history and culture. Yet, he writes in clear, understandable language. The book is extremely well referenced with every section's notes being the beginning for scholarship and knowledge on what he speaks.

Published in 1990, the book can hardly be taken to task for developments that have come to fruition since then. Music and culture once seen as alternatives to the Eurocentric approaches to high culture Levine outlines, seem to have proceded along the same lines. Free and post-modern Jazz, once the product of an iconoclast approach to mainline Jazz, has tended to take the view that it is "high art" to be comprehended by the totally advanced versus entertainment, while a politically conservative trend to paint Jazz as the U.S/s "true" classical music demand that Jazz emulate European "classical" music with a canon and repertory orchestras aimed at reproducing that canon. Meanwhile, they expel Jazz artists with strong links to Black popular music and dance from their definitions of Jazz. Few tend to share the views of Art Blakey and others about the need to reestablish Jazz as a form of dance and entertainment music for African Americans.
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