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

Front Cover
Princeton University Press, 2006 - Philosophy - 288 pages
0 Reviews

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.


What people are saying - Write a review

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


Deep Culture and Democratic Renewal
Quandaries of Individualism
The Justice of Privilege
Selfmade Men and Women
In America All Religions Are True
Ethnic Ties That Bind Loosely
Saving Ourselves from Materialism
Venues for Reflective Democracy
Selected bibliography

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 19 - Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property, and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
Page 263 - FORNEY'S ANECDOTES OF PUBLIC MEN. Anecdotes of Public Men. By JOHN W. FORNEY. 12mo, Cloth, $2 00. MISS BEECHER'S HOUSEKEEPER AND HEALTHKEEPER : Containing Five Hundred Recipes for Economical and Healthful Cooking; also, many Directions for securing Health and Happiness. Approved by Physicians of all Classes.
Page 13 - Humanity and an offence against God? But the earnest, unselfish Reformer,— born into a state of darkness, evil, and suffering, and honestly striving to replace these by light, and purity, and happiness,— he may fall and die, as so many have done before him, but he cannot fail. His vindication shall gleam from the walls of his hovel, his dungeon, his tomb; it shall shine in the radiant eyes of uncorrupted Childhood, and fall in blessings from the lips of highhearted, generous Youth.
Page 13 - Roman myth, too — which envisaged life within a long, dense corridor of meaningful history — the American myth saw life and history as just beginning. It described the world as starting up again under fresh initiative, in a divinely granted second chance for the human race, after the first chance had been so disastrously fumbled in the darkening Old World.
Page 20 - These include a preparedness to work with others different from oneself toward shared ends; a combination of strong convictions with a readiness to compromise in the recognition that one can't always get everything one wants; and a sense of individuality and a commitment to civic goods that are not the possession of one person or of one small group alone.

References to this book

Bibliographic information