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The Magnificent Ambersons (Modern Library 100 Best Novels) [Paperback]

Booth Tarkington
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 14, 1998 Modern Library 100 Best Novels
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize when it was first published in 1918, The Magnificent Ambersons chronicles the changing fortunes of three generations of an American dynasty. The protagonist of Booth Tarkington's great historical drama is George Amberson Minafer, the spoiled and arrogant grandson of the founder of the family's magnificence. Eclipsed by a new breed of developers, financiers, and manufacturers, this pampered scion begins his gradual descent from the midwestern aristocracy to the working class.

Today The Magnificent Ambersons is best known through the 1942 Orson Welles movie, but as the critic Stanley Kauffmann noted, "It is high time that [the novel] appear again, to stand outside the force of Welles's genius, confident in its own right."

"The Magnificent Ambersons is perhaps Tarkington's best novel," judged Van Wyck Brooks. "[It is] a typical story of an American family and town--the great family that locally ruled the roost and vanished virtually in a day as the town spread and darkened into a city. This novel no doubt was a permanent page in the social history of the United States, so admirably conceived and written was the tale of the Ambersons, their house, their fate and the growth of the community in which they were submerged in the end."

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Though not out of print, this latest offering from Bantam is the least expensive edition currently available. The 1919 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel portrays the decline of the superrich Amberson family, who act as a metaphor for the old society that crumbled after the Industrial Revolution. All fiction collections should own a copy, and all video collections should include Orson Welles's 1942 film version.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"The Magnificent Ambersons is perhaps Tarkington's best novel." ---Van Wyck Brooks --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library 100 Best Novels
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Reprint edition (September 14, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375752501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375752506
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
104 of 108 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars White gloves and riffraff November 28, 2002
Format:School & Library Binding
I hate to admit it, but if this novel had not been included in the Modern Library's Top 100, I probably would have never picked it up. I have never been a fan of socially conscious literature, and I anticipated a novel in the style of William Dean Howells - full of cardboard characters, most of whom would be down trodden and hopeless, or rich and ruthless, and enough moral pronouncements to make me feel guilty for at least a day or two. Thankfully, I let the Modern Library editors convince me that the book was worth reading.
The novel is set during the dawning of the twentieth century and concerns itself with the impact of mechanical innovation on the bucolic life styles of a midwestern town. As the novel opens, the gulf between prominent families and their aristocratic lives are contrasted with those in society whose main purpose it is to support this luxurious and frivolous existence. The aristocracy is personified by the Amberson family, wealthy and prominent, and particularly by George Amberson Minafer, the spoiled grandson of the family's founder. He is unable to understand that a great revolution is taking place around him, that the lifestyle he has always known is soon to become anachronistic as those people with talent, luck and a little capital will soon surpass him in wealth and prestige. Although he has the talent to join this new mechanical age, he prefers to be and to remain a gentleman and to believe that "being things" is far superior to "doing things."
As the midwestern town grows and expands and becomes more and more industrial, and even as the Amberson family compound becomes surrounded by apartment buildings and factories, George is unable to accept the fact that he and his family are becoming irrelevant.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent book April 24, 2001
"Magnificent" is the word to describe this book. Epic in scope, it follows the rise and fall of the Ambersons as the spoiled and arrogant George Minafer grows up. I enjoyed the somewhat melodramatic story and found many parallels between these times and the world of today. The plot is emotional and powerful, and it is easy to see why Orson Welles would have wanted so much to make it a film.
What makes the book especially interesting, however, is Booth Tarkington's ability to understand and describe the changes going through America at the time. The setting is more than just a "character;" it dictates the circumstances of its inhabitants. It provides the foundation for the way of life they must live. This is not only a tale of George and his family falling from great heights, but also a record of how a small town grew into a city, how automobiles changed the landscape in which we live, how people were forced to adapt to this unsympathetic setting between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He writes mainly from George's point of view, so there is a romantic, nostalgic vision of how things once were, but Tarkington is not fooled into believing that technological and social change has not made some things better, just as he isn't fooled into thinking they haven't made some things worse. What the Ambersons saw as tragedy and loss, others saw as opportunity. I percieved no moral lesson or message; this book is about the tragedy and loss of a proud clan unable to comprehend that in an industrial age, life was no longer static.
(There is also a good lesson in here on the risks of not diversifying your investments!)
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars thankfully saved from the ash heap November 2, 2000
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the story of the decline of the once magnificent Amberson family, the leading family of a Midwestern city at the turn of the century.
George Amberson Minafer is the spoiled young heir to the Amberson fortune, but America is now entering the automobile age & the conservative Ambersons are ill equiped to deal with the rapid changes.
Tarkington intertwines two tragic love stories with the theme of the Ambersons decline and produces one of the really great forgotten novels that I've ever read. Perhaps the book got lost because of the great screen version that Orson Welles produced, but whatever the reason, this is a book that deserves a wider audience and Modern Library is to be applauded for including it on the list.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tack in the balloon May 30, 2004
This magnificent, humorous and fanciful book -- a precurser to Gatsby -- is timeless in its central meaning: parents spoil their children and children eventually must learn to unspoil themselves.
Set in the midwest around the turn of the century, Tarkington introduces the reader into a world ruled by the richest family in town: the Ambersons. A portrait of victorian excess, the Amberson's have everything and then more. Their house is the town's feudal castle. People on the street discuss their every move.
Born into this world is Georgie Minafer, Tarkington's cartoon monster of spoiled and ego-ridden pomposity, who head is as swollen and vacuous as a balloon.
Georgie not only possesses every material item he could ever desire: he also is surrounded by remarkble women: his stunning and angelic mother who would sacrifice anything for his happiness and his wise and beautiful girlfriend Lucy who loves him despite knowing better.
Things change, the town becomes a city and absorbs the Amberson palace in a cloud of soot. One by one Georgie's protectors disapear and the magificence of the Amerbersons and everything he took for granted vaporizes like a dream. This leaves Georgie to ponder what he had, and those who knew him in the good days to observe from afar.
Tarkington masterfully weaves humor, history and gripping emotion in this book. It remains a rewarding book after more than 80 years in print, largely because its meaning is eternal.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I loved this book. It was quaint and funny and still had a message.
Published 28 days ago by Mary Vee
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
Well written and sheds new light and detail on the movie by the same name.
Published 1 month ago by Deborah C. Cartee
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent Ambersons
Truly enjoyed the book. Amazing how different the writer's of the early 1900's era wrote compared to the writers of today. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Rosalie Kimmerly
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Love this book!
Published 1 month ago by David Michael Cernaro
3.0 out of 5 stars An nterestic hcaracter study
A very enjoyable read. The young man who is at the hart of the book is an incredible egotist.
Published 2 months ago by Michael J. Myers
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I loved this book so much I ordered Booth Tarkington's other books.
Published 2 months ago by JJH
3.0 out of 5 stars Acceptable, not worth the time.
Pleasant read. The book seemed to fizzle out as it progressed. Did not like the way it ended.
Needed more resolution at the end!
Published 7 months ago by Barbara
4.0 out of 5 stars A gift that was pleasing
My spouse expressed a desire to have this book. She said the story was beautiful. I immediately thought of this media to obtain the book. I then gave it to her as a gift. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Gene Wright
5.0 out of 5 stars Sandy Isle Books edition true to orginal
The Sandy Isle Books edition is true to the original edition printed in 1918. The edition does include an updated cover, introduction, dedication, and illustrations. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Christopher Knauss
1.0 out of 5 stars The Magnificent Ambersons
The book was slow moving and unremarkable. Nothing interesting was revealed and was sad. I would not recommend this novel.
Published 8 months ago by JAMES GREADY
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