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The Magnificent Ambersons (Modern Library 100 Best Novels)

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

Booth Tarkington
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 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.


"An admirable study of character and of American life." ―New York Times

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback 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: 5.2 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 (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #558,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
116 of 120 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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42 of 44 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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49 of 56 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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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intensely Readable August 15, 2003
Who would have thought that a novel from 1918 would be such a page turner? Not to generalize, but there aren't many books pre-1920 or so that I've been unable to put down. Until "The Magnificent Ambersons."
Covering a span of roughly 20 years in the lives and fortunes of the Amberson/Minafer family, Booth Tarkington uses the fall of the family from its privileged social standing as a symbol of the blurring distinction between classes that took place in the country's urban areas at the beginning of the 20th Century. The Ambersons live in a stately mansion, separated from the outside world by vast lawns and gates, and gradually watch their secluded neighborhood overrun by cheap apartment buildings, increased traffic and pollution. What Tarkington does, nearly 80 years before the actual phrase came into common usage, is address the problems associated with urban sprawl.
The book has two of the most colorful characters ever put down on paper: Georgie Amberson Minafer, the spoiled brat protagonist who fights most fiercely to retain the family's position as one of the most distinguished in the city; and Aunt Fanny, the manipulative spinster who doesn't understand just how serious the consequences of her gossiping and meddling (to her merely distractions from the boredom and tedium of her life) can be.
I surprisingly felt much sympathy for Georgie. He can be odious at times admittedly, and more than once you want to see him slapped silly, and at one point in the novel you honestly begin to wonder if perhaps he's mentally ill, so extreme are the measures to which he will go in the sake of what he thinks is protecting his mother's good name. But by the time the novel ended, I couldn't help being won over by him.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book, worth reading
I was inspired to read this after watching the Orson Welles film adaptation. This is a great book, worth reading. In my mind. Read more
Published 2 months ago by alto606
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Makes the movie much more understandable
Published 2 months ago by Bobby S
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A tremendous and riveting story of a rags to riches to rags family.
Published 5 months ago by N. wachs
5.0 out of 5 stars I could not put it down, and I did ...
I could not put it down, and I did not want it to end. Gorgeous from beginning to end, a true masterpiece.
Published 5 months ago by Kiernan O'Connor
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a fan
I am not a fan of wimpy wishy washy women or self important selfish sexist men. This book was full of them. I kept hoping for a redemption-filled ending but remained disappointed
Published 6 months ago by Nancy S. Kickertz
5.0 out of 5 stars I decided to read Booth Tarkington's "The Magnificent Ambersons" and...
After watching the movie on TCM, I decided to read Booth Tarkington's "The Magnificent Ambersons" and was delighted with it. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jan Inman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Absolutely totally enjoyed reading this and looking forward to re-reading!!
Published 6 months ago by Donna Burnett
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Font of book isn't the easiest to read
Published 6 months ago by Amanda A
4.0 out of 5 stars But I thoroughly enjoyed it. Was evocative of its time and all ...
As I a not American, I had never heard of this American classic. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Was evocative of its time and all the characters were believable. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Martini Girl
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 7 months ago by 1thru5
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