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Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America [Kindle Edition]

Jay Parini
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.95
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Book Description

In this lively exploration of America’s intellectual heritage, acclaimed poet, novelist, and critic Jay Parini celebrates the life and times of thirteen books that helped shape the American psyche.
Moving nimbly between the great watersheds in American letters—including Walden, Huckleberry Finn, The Souls of Black Folk, and On the Road—Parini demonstrates how these books entered American life and altered how we think and act in the world. An immensely readable and vibrant work of cultural history, Promised Land exposes the rich literary foundation of our culture, and is sure to appeal to all book lovers and students of the American character alike.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Poet, novelist and literary critic Parini (The Last Station) examines the books he believes represent the soul of the American republic. Some of these books are masterpieces, others icons of a moment in American history. Throughout, Parini makes his case while wearing his learning lightly. All of these works, from William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation to Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, had a profound impact on America's complex identity. The evolving American dynamic is noted in the way the subjects cluster: the American experiment (The Federalist Papers); exploration of a continent (The Journals of Lewis and Clark); a new connection with nature and self (Walden); issues of race and urban ethnicity (Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Souls of Black Folk, among others); business and its opposite, the counterculture (How to Win Friends and Influence People and On the Road). A terrific chapter explores Dr. Spock's The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (Spock said no to no). A listing of 100 additional books with seismic impact rounds out this engaging discussion, which ought to be on the syllabus of American studies courses. (Nov. 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

While critics agreed that the 13 works offered by Parini are seminal, they all thought that his short list was, well, too short. Some critics thought that, fundamentally, Parini set far too ambitious a goal and therefore found the book disappointing; others were happy to quibble with the works he selected. Second-guessing the author's choices is part of the fun, of course. Parini also included a bonus list of 100 additional influential books for readers to consider. However, a few critics cited some of the analysis as dull; the parts where Parini personalizes his selection (as in Carnegie's How to Win Friends) fared much better. In sum, Promised Landperhaps promises more than it delivers, but it is nonetheless a good starting point for understanding America's influential literary heritage.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

Product Details

  • File Size: 873 KB
  • Print Length: 402 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385522762
  • Publisher: Anchor (November 11, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001K9JVUU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #662,214 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Promised Land: Surprising & Insightful December 11, 2008
When I first picked up "Promised Land," I must admit I feared I may be embarking on another dry survey of American Literature; that or a greatest hits collection that simply retold great American novels the likes of Gatsby and Moby Dick, incredible as they are. Instead, I found myself pleasantly surprised. By no means obscure, Promised Land does an superb job of including canonized classics like Uncle Tom's Cabin and Walden alongside the less expected Dr. Spock and Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Parini is a master at keeping his writing accessible to all readers, and despite the work's academic-sounding title, Parini's prose are light and highly insightful, resulting in a quick and enthralling read. His deep knowledge of his subject and colorful, one-of-a-kind anecdotes keep the pages turning throughout.

In the end, Parini produces a book suited for anyone who has ever marveled at an American novel or pondered what it means for literature to be American. Whether you have studied these works at length or have just read one or two back in high school, you will be amazed and touched by Parini's diligence and the careful consideration that went into crafting the Promised Land.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A baker's dozen of the greatest books in America December 11, 2008
Is it possible to winnow down all the great books that have been written in --- and about --- America to a baker's dozen? Jay Parini thinks so and offers PROMISED LANED as proof.

Parini --- a poet, novelist, biographer and professor at Middlebury College in Vermont --- selects his choices dating back to William Bradford's HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION and ending with Betty Friedan's THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE. He defines his selection process as including books "that helped to create the intellectual and emotional contours of this country. Each played a significant role in developing a complex value system that flourishes to this day."

The other 11 titles feature a combination of novels and nonfiction, (relatively) light reading and much more serious fare: THE FEDERALIST PAPERS by Alexander Hamilton, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, THE JOURNALS OF LEWIS AND CLARK, WALDEN, UNCLE TOM'S CABIN by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain's THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK by W. E. B. Du Bois, THE PROMISED LAND by Mary Antin, Dale Carnegie's HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, THE COMMON SENSE BOOK OF BABY AND CHILD CARE by Dr. Benjamin Spock, and Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD.

Each analysis consists of a brief biographical look at the author and an in-depth examination of the book and its impact on American society. Parini also shows how each volume has held up; sensibilities during the time each was printed have greatly changed over the generations, but they still pack a punch.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting starting point for debate November 30, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Americans are utopians, as the list of the country's 13 most influential books -- as selected by Parini -- suggests. And Parini himself is perhaps a utopian of sorts simply by attempting to undertake such a mammoth task.

This is an interesting addition to the ongoing debate over whether it's possible to create a canon of great books. Parini doesn't get that ambitious, thankfully. He isn't suggesting that all the books he recommends are great: rather, only that they significantly transformed American politics or society in some critical way. Therefore, we have everything from Uncle Tom's Cabin to Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People on the list -- neither of which could be dubbed great literary works. In fact, I'd suggest that only Walden, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and On the Road would even qualify for inclusion. But each book does shed light on a different facet of the American identity, from our struggle to reconcile our insistence on freedom with the need for government and our urge to push our boundaries ever wider (Twain, along with Lewis & Clark), to race and gender issues

Even by that standard, I'm not sure that I can agree with all of Parini's suggestions for inclusion in the list, although that really isn't the point. He himself admits that it is subjective and one that was compiled with great difficulty -- and with an appendix (with comments) on a hundred additional works that could have been included. But the works do have a unifying theme running through them -- the endless quest for perfection and, in particular, a perfect society. (In the works selected from the 20th century, Parini deviates slightly to focus on those that deal more with efforts of individuals to perfect themselves, as represented by everyone from Dr.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspired to write my first review...a masterpiece December 20, 2008
I originally picked this book up to hear what Mr. Parini had to say about Ben Franklin's autobiography. I teach it in my high school AP classes, so I wanted to see if I could get fresh insight on the book.

Of course, I am writing this review because I found much more than an insightful discussion of Franklin's autobiography.

Like all great books, this one builds on itself chapter by chapter, drawing lines of force between all of the books, painting American Literature as a centuries-long conversation.

By the time Parini writes about Kerouac's On the Road, he is drawing parallels between most of the books that he has discussed before, including Walden, The Promised Land, and Huck Finn, and he is doing so in a strong, formal prose that also invites the casual reader. Parini is, after all, a poet.

Some may quibble with the 13 books he chooses, but these particular books, put in chronological order, allow Parini (to paraphrase a line from Parini himself in the book) to do more than tell a picaresque story; it allows him to deliver a narrative, a plot, with one book necessarily issuing as a new voice in a long conversation.

I have read most of the 13 books included here, and what makes this book so powerful is Parini's ability to capture the tone and the impact of the books he discusses, even the ones that aren't "classics" in a literary sense. In fact, he does not simply choose books he likes; he displays condescension for "How to Win Friends and Influence People," while noting its powerful impact on him as a young man.

I originally planned on having my students read the Franklin chapter, but I'm pretty sure now they'll be reading the whole thing. "The Promised Land" is intelligent, insightful, powerful, and, above all, engaging.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars A work not to be taken seriously
Parini's work in this book is so obviously and frequently tainted by his liberal bias that it quickly becomes apparent that the only good reason to read this book to its end is to... Read more
Published 18 months ago by John Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars A window into the mind of America
This book is a must read for anybody interested in learning more about America.
The author picked 13 books that influenced thought in America to such an extent that they... Read more
Published on September 3, 2011 by Alejandra Magnano
5.0 out of 5 stars Every American's Book
This is a book that should be on the shelf of every true American. It is a reference to "must read" books, and gives an insight into what has made our country what is once was. Read more
Published on June 14, 2010 by J. Fernane
5.0 out of 5 stars Promised Land is a survey of 13 influential books in American history...
Dr. Jay Parini is a poet, novelist, college teacher and literary scholar. In "Promised Land" he has selected thirteen books which he believes have had importance in moulding the... Read more
Published on March 18, 2010 by C. M Mills
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Road Trips
[Published first on Blogcritics] FCEtier

"You know more than you think you do." So says an Olympic gold medal winner, and so begins a book that over sixty years later... Read more
Published on March 4, 2010 by Kathryn E. Etier
5.0 out of 5 stars Determined
"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book?"~ Thoreau.
As a mother of two young children who also works full time, I cannot stress enough how... Read more
Published on June 30, 2009 by L. Pike
5.0 out of 5 stars Book : Promised Land
The book arrived promptly and in good condition. I am satisfied with your service.
Published on February 3, 2009 by Bernadette A. Reilly
4.0 out of 5 stars A WONDERFUL EFFORT
The object of a work like Parini's -- in my opinion -- is always to provoke thought, and thankfully, to remind people of our literary heritage. Read more
Published on January 11, 2009 by James Dalessandro
5.0 out of 5 stars America: A 230 year Work in Progress
I used to say that if I could give only ONE book to my daughter or son as s/he went off to Yale it would be Bartlett's Familiar Quotations because it gives the lay of the human... Read more
Published on December 8, 2008 by Paul Keane
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More About the Author

Jay Parini is Axinn Professor of English at Middlebury College, Vermont. His six novels also include Benjamins Crossing and The Apprentice Lover. His volumes of poetry include The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems. In addition to biographies of John Steinbeck, Robert Frost and William Faulkner, he has written a volume of essays on literature and politics, as well as The Art of Teaching. He edited the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature and writes regularly for the Guardian and other publications.

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