Americanon: An Unexpected U.S. History in Thirteen Bestselling Books

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Penguin, Jun 1, 2021 - History - 432 pages
“An elegant, meticulously researched, and eminently readable history of the books that define us as Americans. For history buffs and book-lovers alike, McHugh offers us a precious gift.”—Jake Halpern, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author     

“With her usual eye for detail and knack for smart storytelling, Jess McHugh takes a savvy and sensitive look at the 'secret origins' of the books that made and defined us. . . . You won't want to miss a one moment of it.”—Brian Jay Jones, author of Becoming Dr. Seuss and the New York Times bestselling Jim Henson

The true, fascinating, and remarkable history of thirteen books that defined a nation

Surprising and delightfully engrossing, Americanon explores the true history of thirteen of the nation’s most popular books. Overlooked for centuries, our simple dictionaries, spellers, almanacs, and how-to manuals are the unexamined touchstones for American cultures and customs. These books sold tens of millions of copies and set out specific archetypes for the ideal American, from the self-made entrepreneur to the humble farmer.
Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Webster's Dictionary, Emily Post’s Etiquette: Americanon looks at how these ubiquitous books have updated and reemphasized potent American ideals—about meritocracy, patriotism, or individualism—at crucial moments in history. Old favorites like the Old Farmer’s Almanac and Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book are seen in this new way—not just as popular books but as foundational texts that shaped our understanding of the American story.

Taken together, these books help us understand how their authors, most of them part of a powerful minority, attempted to construct meaning for the majority. Their beliefs and quirks—as well as personal interests, prejudices, and often strange personalities—informed the values and habits of millions of Americans, woven into our cultural DNA over generations of reading and dog-earing. Yet their influence remains uninvestigated--until now.

What better way to understand a people than to look at the books they consumed most, the ones they returned to repeatedly, with questions about everything from spelling to social mobility to sex. This fresh and engaging book is American history as you’ve never encountered it before.

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Americanon: An Unexpected U.S. History in Thirteen Bestselling Books

User Review  - Publishers Weekly

Journalist McHugh’s appealing cultural history dissects the American character through a close examination of “ordinary, instructional books that average Americans have consulted every day ... Read full review


CHAPTER ONE The Old Farmers Almanac 1792 II
CHAPTER TWO Websters Speller and Dictionary
CHAPTER THREE Benjamin Franklins
CHAPTER FOUR The McGuffey Readers 18361837
CHAPTER FIVE A Handbook to American Womanhood
CHAPTER SIX Etiquette in Society in Business
CHAPTER SEVEN How to Win Friends
CHAPTER EIGHT Betty Crockers Picture Cook Book 1950
CHAPTER NINE Everything You Always wanted
CHAPTER TEN Surviving the Eighties
Selected Bibliography

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About the author (2021)

Jess McHugh is a writer and researcher whose work has appeared across a variety of national and international publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Nation, TIME, The Paris Review, The Guardian, The New Republic, New York magazine's The Cut, Fortune, Village Voice, The Believer, and Lapham's Quarterly, among others. She has reported stories from four continents on a range of cultural and historical topics, from present-day Liverpool punks to the history of 1960s activists in Greenwich Village.

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