The Real American Dream by Andrew Delbanco
A Meditation on Hope (William E. Massey, Sr. Lectures in the History of American C)

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Since we discovered that, in Tocqueville's words, "the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy the heart," how have we Americans made do? In The Real American Dream one of the nation's premier literary scholars searches out the symbols and stories by which Americans have reached for something beyond worldly desire. A spiritual history ranging from the first English settlements to the present day, the book is also a lively, deeply learned meditation on hope.

Andrew Delbanco tells of the stringent God of Protestant Christianity, who exerted immense force over the language, institutions, and customs of the culture for nearly 200 years. He describes the falling away of this God and the rise of the idea of a sacred nation-state. And, finally, he speaks of our own moment, when symbols of nationalism are in decline, leaving us with nothing to satisfy the longing for transcendence once sustained by God and nation.

From the Christian story that expressed the earliest Puritan yearnings to New Age spirituality, apocalyptic environmentalism, and the multicultural search for ancestral roots that divert our own, The Real American Dream evokes the tidal rhythm of American history. It shows how Americans have organized their days and ordered their lives--and ultimately created a culture--to make sense of the pain, desire, pleasure, and fear that are the stuff of human experience. In a time of cultural crisis, when the old stories seem to be faltering, this book offers a lesson in the painstaking remaking of the American dream.


About Andrew Delbanco

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Andrew Delbanco is the Mendelson Family Chair of American Studies and Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.
Published June 30, 2009 by Harvard University Press. 160 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Education & Reference, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

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To have hope in ourselves alone is to have lost “the real American dream,” which was to share in some public responsibility, whether it was founding the kingdom of God on earth, preserving the Union, creating true equality, or pursuing more modest programs of reform, succor, and help.

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Publishers Weekly

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A close and passionate reader of American literature, Delbanco (The Death of Satan, etc.) believes that contemporary American culture has lost its once vital sense of the transcendent. This book is, w

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The third part of the book becomes a lament as Delbanco posits that, since roughly the 1960s, ""hope has narrowed to the vanishing point of the self alone."" Delbanco acknowledges that his conceit presents a ""too neat division of American history into two phases of coherent belief followed by a ...

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Finally, although I find myself in sympathy with the author’s sorrow about the condition of civic activism in the United States at century’s end, an important counterweight will be found in Michael Schudson’s The Good Citizen: A History of American Civic Life (1998), which offers more hopeful pr...

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