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The Making of Middlebrow Culture Paperback – March 1, 1992


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rubin's ( Constance Rourke and American Culture ) discussion of American culture from the 1920s through the 1940s is less revealing of middlebrow values and attitudes than of what the people who dispensed packaged culture thought such attitudes were. She offers entertaining details on the instruments of middlebrow culture and their creators: the heyday of the New York Herald Tribune' s books section, the early years of the Book-of-the-Month Club and the "great books" movement, the first literary radio shows and the then-popular "outline" volume. She examines the tension between informing the public and forming its tastes, between marketing knowledge and standardizing it. Rather less interesting is Rubin's preoccupation with the relationship of her subjects to academia, for example, "great books" originator John Erskine (an insider) and BOMC book critic Dorothy Canfield Fisher (an outsider). However, there is much to enjoy in her accounts, and as an added bonus the book itself demonstrates that middlebrow culture lives on: Rubin received NEH funds "to bring the results of cultural activities to a broad, general public"--thus, it's a middlebrow work.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Rubin (American Studies/SUNY at Brockport) offers a thorough, thoughtful history and critique of ``middlebrow culture'' during the 1920's-40's, profiling Will Durant and other ``apostles of a shattered faith'' who promoted it. Virginia Woolf, Rubin reminds us, ``derided the middlebrow as a person `betwixt and between' '' and somehow not without the taint of money. Rubin's aim is ``to redress both the disregard and the oversimplification of middlebrow culture.'' She sees it in a positive light as descending from the 19th-century ``genteel'' tradition (propounded by Charles Eliot Norton, Frederick Law Olmstead, etc.), which associated learning with character and offered a refuge from consumer culture. To make her case, the author closely considers five manifestations of the middlebrow mission--The New York Herald Tribune's ``Books'' section, first headed by Stuart Pratt Sherman, professor turned editor, who drove book reviewing away from moralistic criticism and toward news; the Book-of-the-Month Club, whose marketing depended on ``the news value of recent publications''; the ``Great Books'' movement, brought to full flower by Columbia professor John Erskine; the ``vogue of the `Outline,' '' epitomized by Durant's The Story of Philosophy; and radio programs on books, like those of Alexander Woollcott, who fostered the idea of the ``cultured person as well informed as opposed to well read.'' In Rubin's view, the aims of these cultural enterprises tended to reflect an American shift from producer to consumer, concerned not with character but with personality. Throughout, she points up conflicts in the mission of making culture a product for mass consumption. Charles Van Doren's cheating on the quiz show Twenty-One in 1957 she calls a ``poignant postscript.'' A welcome scholarly reappraisal of a neglected chapter in America's impulse toward education and self-improvement, and most interesting in the perspective of today's debates on curriculum and ``great books.'' -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 438 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1st edition (March 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807843547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807843543
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #849,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James Seymour on March 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
I found the book well written and the ideas presented in a logical way. The middle brow culture of the early 20th century clearly has parallels today. Plus, the dumbing down of American culture these days (anyone for American Idol?) shows how these middle brow folks would be considered almost high brow today.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rick Lilla on November 18, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have read several books on the emergence of popular culture in the nineteenth century, but nothing held my attention as much as this did. If you are looking for a book that clearly develops the emergence of middlebrow culture in America, this is the one to read. I'd strongly advise you to ignore the one-star review because what the author is communicating is NOT at all obvious. Moreover, through a careful examination of such phenomenons as the Book of the Month Club, the great books project, and other efforts to bring highbrow intellectualism to the masses, Rubin brings to life a period in our history that many have forgotten.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Zeer vlotte bezorging. Keurig verpakt in stevig papier.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Miller on March 22, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is the work of an academic looking for tenure, with unfortunately a limited feel for what constitutes a pertinent or interesting detail or strain of narrative either to a middlebrow or a highbrow. Our author attempts to make a few distinctions between the middlebrow/mass man's tenuous grasp on learning and that of the genuine intellectual: the desire for the development of personality versus that of character, the substitution of the accumulation of facts and information for the thorough mastery of difficult subjects, the cultivation of the mind as a hobby taken up in spare moments as against being the center around which one's life is primarily organized. However, it would have been useful if she could have demonstrated more clearly how the minds of her serious intellectuals differed in kind from that of the middlebrows, and how they succeeded in attaining to that state. She also doubtless regards herself as a more than usually advanced brain--she certainly makes it a point to emphasize her identification as one of the professional academic community, as if that in itself ever made anyone some kind of serious highbrow--but on what grounds? This books adds nothing even infinitessimal to culture, knowledge, or simple enjoyment of life. There are too many wonderful books one is never going to read in life. I can't recommend anyone devote a week or so to this.
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4 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
The author attempts to write in language that confuses the reader to hide the fact that the point she it trying to make is obvious and not worthy of sooooo many pages.
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