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Twenty-five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity Paperback – May 24, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Works of imaginative literature from American writers are Foster's choice for his "Great Books" list. Despite stilted language, Foster says, Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans makes the cut because Cooper shows us what a real, sprung-from-the-soil American hero looks like, and because it gave us the first mixed-race buddy story—a notable achievement in a racist time. Foster (How to Read Literature Like a Professor) doesn't much like The Scarlet Letter, but includes it because of Hawthorne's discerning eye for folly, hypocrisy, redemption, and our capacity for error. Walden's importance is about being that still point in the turning world; with Moby-Dick, Melville proves himself America's avatar of complex, even mad narrative; and The Great Gatsby is the most devastating portrait of capitalism run wild in Roaring 20s New York. Among the titles rounding out the list are Leaves of Grass, Huck Finn, My Antonia, The Cat in the Hat, On the Road, Song of Solomon, and Love Medicine. Foster tries to balance the list with women and African-American and Latino writers, though the classic canon and much of the list is predictable. But Foster is a witty, quirkily provocative and perceptive literary critic. (June)
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Review

“Funny, challenging, clear, and always insightful, this intriguing book will make you think again about what it means to be an American.” (Janice A. Radway, author of A Feeling for Books)

“Many readers will wish they had a high-school English teacher as cheery and engaged as Foster.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Foster is a witty, quirkily provocative, and perceptive literary critic.” (Publishers Weekly)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (May 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061834408
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061834400
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you liked Thomas C. Foster's previous books (How to Read Literature/Novels Like a Professor) and already have an interest in American Literature, you'll probably enjoy this. The book is aimed at the amateur reader who wants some extra insights into the texts he or she has already read, as well as some guidance towards future readings. Each chapter is like dropping in on a good college or high school session on an individual text, and is written in a very easy to read conversational jargon-free style. Foster assumes a bit more prior knowledge than in his previous books, assuming we've at least heard of the major texts and authors of the American and World canon. The chapters are most interesting if you've already read the texts, but it's not essential. On the other hand, if you have not read any of the texts, you're probably not interested in this book (unless your goal is to pass as reader of these books, in which case the book will also be of considerable value).

While all of Foster's chapters are excellent, I felt he truly shined in his discussions of American poetry. Perhaps that's because I need more help with poetry, or the fact that he can actually dissect complete poems (which he has room to provide).

All in all, highly recommended if your interests lie in this direction. I'd give it 41/2 stars. Since the only rating out there has 1 star, and I need to round in one direction or the other, I'm rounding up to 5 in order to help out the average.
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Thomas C. Foster reviews a selected canon of American literature. The book gives the impression of an expert who has thought out his ideas from scratch. There is no appeal to academic theory. Foster focuses on the influences that these classic books had on later writers. With each book, he discusses the interplay between the book and the American scene, and American history.

He does not indiscriminately uphold the reviewed books as great. For example, he dislikes "The Scarlet Letter."

Foster writes with humor and energy, keeping the book interesting. This is not a plodding textbook.
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By TW on March 1, 2013
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Awesome book. I liked the choices he selected and I really appreciated the fact that Dr. Foster makes it clear that this is just "a list" and not "the list" of books that shaped America. Nicely written, easy to read, and for anyone who knows him, Dr. Foster's voice is clear on each page.
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I highly recommended this book. So many books are over looked, forgotten or never heard of were included. I had added most to my reading list.
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And cheap. You know it's like with school materials you usually don't ever want to pay any more than half of the retail price and the price of this book ( given the quality as well ) definitely exceeded that requirement.
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Foster has written many books of the kind, but this one is a nice introduction to american literature, enjoyable work
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