The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation

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Oxford University Press, 2004 - History - 214 pages
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"The American Dream" is one of the most familiar and resonant phrases in our national lexicon, so familiar that we seldom pause to ask its origin, its history, or what it actually means. In this fascinating short history, Jim Cullen explores the meaning of the American Dream, or rather the several American Dreams that have both reflected and shaped American identity from the Pilgrims to the present. Cullen notes that the United States, unlike most other nations, defines itself not on the facts of blood, religion, language, geography, or shared history, but on a set of ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and consolidated in the Constitution. At the core of these ideals lies the ambiguous concept of the American Dream, a concept that for better and worse has proven to be amazingly elastic and durable for hundreds of years and across racial, class, and other demographic lines. The version of the American Dream that dominates our own time--what Cullen calls "the Dream of the Coast"--is one of personal fulfillment, of fame and fortune all the more alluring if achieved without obvious effort, which finds its most insidious expression in the culture of Hollywood.
 

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The American dream: a short history of an idea that shaped a nation

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The American Dream, argues historian Cullen (The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past), "is neither a reassuring verity nor an empty bromide but rather a complex idea with manifold ... Read full review

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Contents

A DREAM COUNTRY
3
DREAM OF THE GOOD LIFE I THE PURITAN ENTERPRISE
11
DREAM CHARTER THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
35
DREAM OF THE GOOD LIFE II UPWARD MOBILITY
59
KING OF AMERICA THE DREAM OF EQUALITY
103
DETACHED HOUSES THE DREAM OF HOME OWNERSHIP
133
DREAM OF THE GOOD LIFE III THE COAST
159
EXTENDING THE DREAM
185
NOTES ON SOURCES
191
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
201
INDEX
205
Copyright

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About the author (2004)


Jim Cullen holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown University and teaches at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, in New York City. He is the author of Born in the U.S.A.: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition and The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past, among other books.

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