American Mythos: Why Our Best Efforts to be a Better Nation Fall Short

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Princeton University Press, 2006 - Philosophy - 288 pages
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America was built on stories: tales of grateful immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, Horatio Alger-style transformations, self-made men, and the Protestant work ethic. In this new book, renowned sociologist Robert Wuthnow examines these most American of stories--narratives about individualism, immigration, success, religion, and ethnicity--through the eyes of recent immigrants. In doing so, he demonstrates how the "American mythos" has both legitimized American society and prevented it from fully realizing its ideals.

This magisterial work is a reflection and meditation on the national consciousness. It details how Americans have traditionally relied on narratives to address what it means to be strong, morally responsible individuals and to explain why some people are more successful than others--in short, to help us make sense of our lives. But it argues that these narratives have done little to help us confront new challenges. We pass laws to end racial discrimination, yet lack the resolve to create a more equitable society. We welcome the idea of pluralism in religion and values, yet we are shaken by the difficulties immigration presents. We champion prosperity for all, but live in a country where families are still homeless.

American Mythos aptly documents this disconnect between the stories we tell and the reality we face. Examining how cultural narratives may not, and often do not, reflect the reality of today's society, it challenges readers to become more reflective about what it means to live up to the American ideal.

  

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American mythos: why our best efforts to be a better nation fall short

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Of the books reviewed here, this is the most stimulating and perhaps the most disturbing because it challenges the reader to confront some unsettling truths about who we are, what we believe, and what ... Read full review

Review: American Mythos: Why Our Best Efforts to Be a Better Nation Fall Short

User Review  - Lauren Montgomery - Goodreads

As a history teacher I teach about "national consciousness", but in this day and age there doesn't seem to be a single "America" like there used to be. Due in part to new challenges facing country and ... Read full review

Contents

Deep Culture and Democratic Renewal
12
Quandaries of Individualism
38
The Justice of Privilege
79
Selfmade Men and Women
104
In America All Religions Are True
128
Ethnic Ties That Bind Loosely
163
Saving Ourselves from Materialism
192
Venues for Reflective Democracy
218
Appendix
235
Notes
239
Selected bibliography
263
Index
277
Copyright

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About the author (2006)

Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Social Sciences at Princeton University. His many books include "Red State Religion" and "America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity" (both Princeton).

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