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Main Street Blues: The Decline of Small-Town America (Urban Life and Urban Landscape Series) Hardcover – August 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author, a history professor now residing in Nevada, grew up in Camden, Ohio, and left his home town after graduating from high school in 1960. The town's population, hovering around 1000, in most ways typifies small-town America, though every town has unique components. Although Camden doesn't appear in the title or subtitle, this is really a thorough, well-written and minutely detailed account of that one town. Davies presents convincing evidence that the popular image of small-town America as a folk society is based on the isolated communities of the rural 19th century. Wal-Mart may be considered the final blow to mom-and-pop Main Street businesses, but the forces of centralization and urbanization were in place by 1900 and Davies tracks Camden's ebb and flow during the 20th century up to the shell that remains in the late 1990s. Sherwood Anderson was born in Camden, and his depiction of life in the fictitious Winesburg, Ohio, pairs with Sinclair Lewis's portrayal of Main Street, to provide mythical counterpoints to reality. The case study of Camden is 95% of the book, but the town is contrasted with other communities the author visited on a 44-state driving trip. The few small towns that have escaped the stagnation of the majority have done so because of special circumstances, inspired leadership or plain luck. Ultimately, this is a competent book with a sad story but little new to report.

Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Urban Life and Urban Landscape Series
  • Hardcover: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Ohio State University Press; 1st edition (August 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814207812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814207819
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,604,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 4, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book is not a nostalgic paen to the place of small towns in American history. Neither does this book debunk small towns and small town values. Instead it is an example of an increasingly rare commodity: a gracefully written, perceptive, interesting, anlytical, narrative history, a book that is at once academically sound and also appealing to a more general reading public.
The task that Davies sets for himself is to write a history of his home town that is true to the town and its peoples and, simultaneously, sets Camden, Ohio squarely in the economic, social, and political milieu of 19th and 20th century America. As I read the book I had the sense that Davies was employing a highly calibrated, zoom lens microscope to look at Camden. At 200 power, Davies was able to analyze the uniqueness of Camden and its denizens at a particular time. Then, very quickly, he zoomed out in order to see and describe Camden against its larger background. So, the reader (at 200 power mafnification) is able to understand the impact of early movie theaters on the economic and social life of Camden. Then (zoomed out), the reader can understand how Camden's experience fit into that of other small American towns.
A historian has to be a real pro in order to apply successfully this approach. Davies is. He has read widely in sociology, anthropology, economics, and history. He plumbed the archival materials for Camden. He writes clearly with insight, verve, and control. And the title, Main Street Blues, captures just the right tempo and key for the story he has to tell.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jeanie on January 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
As a person who grew up in small town South Dakota America, I share the pain of those who return to look over the ugly demise. But, I wanted to know the many reasons why this decline happened (and stop listening to the simplistic reasons offered by the Wal-Mart haters). So, I perused Amazon and came upon this well-researched gemstone. The downward slope is carefully laid out for the curious readers who are barbed, daily, by not only wanting answers, but needing answers. I highly recommend this work!
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