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U.S.A.: The 42nd Parallel / 1919 / The Big Money

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In the novels that make up the U.S.A.trilogy—The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money—Dos Passos creates an unforgettable collective portrait of America, shot through with sardonic comedy and brilliant social observation. He interweaves the careers of his characters and the events of their time with a narrative verve and breathtaking technical skill that make U.S.A. In the novels that make up the U.S.A.trilogy—The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money—Dos Passos creates an unforgettable collective portrait of America, shot through with sardonic comedy and brilliant social observation. He interweaves the careers of his characters and the events of their time with a narrative verve and breathtaking technical skill that make U.S.A. among the most compulsively readable of modern classics. A startling range of experimental devices captures the textures and background noises of 20th-century life: "Newsreels" with blaring headlines; autobiographical "Camera Eye" sections with poetic stream-of-consciousness; "biographies" evoking emblematic historical figures like J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, John Reed, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thorstein Veblen, and the Unknown Soldier. Holding everything together is sheer storytelling power, tracing dozens of characters from the Spanish-American War to the onset of the Depression. The U.S.A. trilogy is filled with American speech: labor radicals and advertising executives, sailors and stenographers, interior decorators and movie stars. Their crisscrossing destinies take in wars and revolutions, desperate love affairs and harrowing family crises, corrupt public triumphs and private catastrophes, in settings that include the trenches of World War I, insurgent Mexico, Hollywood studios in the silent era, Wall Street boardrooms, and the tumultuous streets of Boston just before the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.


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In the novels that make up the U.S.A.trilogy—The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money—Dos Passos creates an unforgettable collective portrait of America, shot through with sardonic comedy and brilliant social observation. He interweaves the careers of his characters and the events of their time with a narrative verve and breathtaking technical skill that make U.S.A. In the novels that make up the U.S.A.trilogy—The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money—Dos Passos creates an unforgettable collective portrait of America, shot through with sardonic comedy and brilliant social observation. He interweaves the careers of his characters and the events of their time with a narrative verve and breathtaking technical skill that make U.S.A. among the most compulsively readable of modern classics. A startling range of experimental devices captures the textures and background noises of 20th-century life: "Newsreels" with blaring headlines; autobiographical "Camera Eye" sections with poetic stream-of-consciousness; "biographies" evoking emblematic historical figures like J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, John Reed, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thorstein Veblen, and the Unknown Soldier. Holding everything together is sheer storytelling power, tracing dozens of characters from the Spanish-American War to the onset of the Depression. The U.S.A. trilogy is filled with American speech: labor radicals and advertising executives, sailors and stenographers, interior decorators and movie stars. Their crisscrossing destinies take in wars and revolutions, desperate love affairs and harrowing family crises, corrupt public triumphs and private catastrophes, in settings that include the trenches of World War I, insurgent Mexico, Hollywood studios in the silent era, Wall Street boardrooms, and the tumultuous streets of Boston just before the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.

30 review for U.S.A.: The 42nd Parallel / 1919 / The Big Money

  1. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Present at the Birth of Corporate Man The modern de Tocqueville in fictional format. There is no better observer of the 20th century American character than Dos Passos. He chronicles that unique mixture of frenetic American activity coupled with an equally energetic despair. Striving in America isn't based on hope but serves to avoid reflection on the need for hope or its source. It isn't possible to understand the attraction of a man like Donald Trump to a huge swathe of the American population Present at the Birth of Corporate Man The modern de Tocqueville in fictional format. There is no better observer of the 20th century American character than Dos Passos. He chronicles that unique mixture of frenetic American activity coupled with an equally energetic despair. Striving in America isn't based on hope but serves to avoid reflection on the need for hope or its source. It isn't possible to understand the attraction of a man like Donald Trump to a huge swathe of the American population without an appreciation of the characters Dos Passos constructs to populate his inter-war novels. It is during this period that the cultural and political mould of the United States solidified to produce not the revolutionary, or the pioneer, or the successful immigrant, but the corporate man and woman who have to get on in a world that they little understand and don't much like. Trump is the son of one of these people and would continue the tradition. Postscript: Dos Passos continued a focus on corporate life that I think was started by Theodore Dreiser and continued by authors like Louis Auchincloss and William Gaddis. They each in their own way record what might be called the corporate aesthetic as it emerged in America. See: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Although of an entirely different genre, E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime might be considered as a sort of fictional birth notice of corporate America. See https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Postscript 29Dec19: https://apple.news/AutauXztHQS2BlRtVA...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    U.S.A. trilogy is a panorama of the state. John Dos Passos knows every nook and cranny of the country. John Dos Passos knows all ins and outs of human soul so the book is a real gallery of human types. “But the working people, the common people, they won’t allow it.” “It’s the common people who get most fun out of the torture and execution of great men… If it’s not going too far back I’d like to know who it was demanded the execution of our friend Jesus H. Christ?” John Dos Passos hates movers and U.S.A. trilogy is a panorama of the state. John Dos Passos knows every nook and cranny of the country. John Dos Passos knows all ins and outs of human soul so the book is a real gallery of human types. “But the working people, the common people, they won’t allow it.” “It’s the common people who get most fun out of the torture and execution of great men… If it’s not going too far back I’d like to know who it was demanded the execution of our friend Jesus H. Christ?” John Dos Passos hates movers and shakers but he has a great sympathy for the weak and the dispossessed. Some are being killed by their avarice, some are being destroyed by their ambitions, some are being done in by their ideals but they all willy-nilly serve the progress. “Whether you like it or not the molding of the public mind is one of the most important things that goes on in this country.” Public relations and advertizing are two licit methods to bamboozle people.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey Benn

    USA is a trilogy, but should really be viewed as a grand novel in three parts. The first section, “The 42nd parallel,” takes place in the decade prior to WWI, in the United States. It is an optimistic, coming of age story – the characters are primarily young, idealistic. Many of the characters are working class people and become involved in radical politics. Throughout “42nd parallel,” you get the feeling of rising class consciousness and working class power – strikes are being won, the workers USA is a trilogy, but should really be viewed as a grand novel in three parts. The first section, “The 42nd parallel,” takes place in the decade prior to WWI, in the United States. It is an optimistic, coming of age story – the characters are primarily young, idealistic. Many of the characters are working class people and become involved in radical politics. Throughout “42nd parallel,” you get the feeling of rising class consciousness and working class power – strikes are being won, the workers are revolting in Mexico. In “1919” America enters WWI, and a surge of nationalism wipes out all of the gains made previously by the working class. The government and industry become much more heavy-handed in their repression of activism. Other characters, previously radical, become swept up in the nationalist fervor, or are corrupted by a dionessyian lifestyle as officers with ambulance corps and the red cross in France during and immediately after the war. Suddenly, people care less about their fellow man, and more about themselves. The final scene of 1919 is exceptionally powerful: a returning veteran joins a protest against lumber barons in Oregon, and is brutally murdered. The final book, “The Big Money,” takes place in the 1920s, and follows a number of people as they try to ascend into wealth and success, primarily in NYC. Some succeed, some are crushed – all end up lonely and bitter. The final part of “The Big Money” returns to a number of the radicals introduced in the previous books, whom are fighting hopelessly against the government (Sacco and Vanzetti) and industry, while becoming increasingly radicalized. Overall, USA has a very interesting style – it jumps from sections about particular characters, to excerpts from newsreels, to short stream of consciousness sections, to brief narratives detailing the entire lives of important figures (Henry Ford, President Wilson, Thomas Edison etc). As historical fiction, I liked it, because it felt very real – it was chaotic and unpredictable, with characters subject to fits of irrationality, depression, and bad luck – nothing felt inevitable. This book is a great commentary on what changed in America over the period of 1900-1930, as we became the economic superpower of the world. It is also a commentary on the shift towards conservatism and selfishness that comes with age. USA’s scope and overall end – painting a picture of a whole country during a tumultuous period of time – remind me very much of War and Peace. However, USA is told through the prism of the working class, where War and Peace is told through the prism of the Russian nobility.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    Attempting to tackle Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy in one week, Thanksgiving week, nonetheless, was quite a challenge and has put my "book a week" schedule a tad behind, however, this phenomenal masterpiece (yes, I am singing its praises) was worth the eyestrain and resulting bloodshot eyes. I wrestled with the idea of giving the 1200+ page tome three weeks reading time since U.S.A. consists of three novels; The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money, however, since Modern Library listed it singly Attempting to tackle Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy in one week, Thanksgiving week, nonetheless, was quite a challenge and has put my "book a week" schedule a tad behind, however, this phenomenal masterpiece (yes, I am singing its praises) was worth the eyestrain and resulting bloodshot eyes. I wrestled with the idea of giving the 1200+ page tome three weeks reading time since U.S.A. consists of three novels; The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money, however, since Modern Library listed it singly and it was highly recommended to read as one, I held myself to task. U.S.A. takes the reader from the east to the west with stops in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and on to Fargo, North Dakota and out to Hollywood, California. Contrary to its title, there are also tales set in Paris, France, Italy and Cuba. Dos Passos manages to cover an array of subjects including social inequality, sexual promiscuity, abortion, suicide, prohibition, the stock market and more without haranguing the reader. There are twelve central characters in U.S.A., all introduced as children and we see them leave home and attempt to find their way in the U.S.A. as they deal with love and betrayal, birth and death, purpose and loneliness. While some of the characters and stories are interwoven, there are not always neat and happy endings. In fact, some characters are hinted to be in failing health, yet we don't get the answers to our speculations. I was not so crazy about some of the little extras in the book; Newsreel listed actual headlines from the time period, Camera Eye was stream of consciousness (not my cup of tea) said to be autobiographical, and Bios of actual figures from the time. Although relevant, the sheer volume of the trilogy made it difficult to appreciate the additional text. Charley Anderson is a mechanic who makes it big, yet struggles with fitting in and turns to alcohol which eventually has devastating consequences. Margo Dowling is a tenacious gal who faces obstacles from the very start, when her mother dies in childbirth and her father turns to booze. Her stepmother remarries a cad who rapes her and she flees with a Cuban who is an drug addicted homosexual, but she eventually makes it to Hollywood and becomes a star, albeit, short-lived once the silent movies are given "voice". Someone should make this into a mini-series! I'm sure people would get hooked on the story lines and lovable and loathsome characters and hopefully be compelled to read the book. I would love, love, love to spend some time with Mr. Dos Passos. He most certainly could tell some wonderful tales and I'd love to hear about his travels throughout the world. If he were to share his expertise with crafting both dialogue and descriptives, I would be in heaven. My rating for U.S.A. is a 10 out of 10.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Petra

    The 42nd Parallel (4-star) I really enjoyed this part of the trilogy. It's well written and shows the life, struggles & times in the USA at the turn of the century to WWI. These characters stem from the working class. They all struggle for comfort, stability, security. The struggles are real. Jobs are lost, bosses take liberties, landlords ask high rents for squalid conditions. It's a hand to mouth existence that all the characters want to leave behind. Very socialist. I hadn't realized the The 42nd Parallel (4-star) I really enjoyed this part of the trilogy. It's well written and shows the life, struggles & times in the USA at the turn of the century to WWI. These characters stem from the working class. They all struggle for comfort, stability, security. The struggles are real. Jobs are lost, bosses take liberties, landlords ask high rents for squalid conditions. It's a hand to mouth existence that all the characters want to leave behind. Very socialist. I hadn't realized the USA was so socialist at this time. The people can see that their labours and hardships bring wealth to their bosses and their companies. Change is coming....now the war has come to the USA. Will that change the coming change? Looking forward to the next book in the trilogy. 1919 (3-star) Much different in tone than the first book. There's a somberness throughout of futility, boredom and an unfocussed look at one's future. The World is at war. That would make one's future unfocussed and uncertain and perhaps one would try to find superficial "joys" wherever one can. But it doesn't make for an interesting story. I enjoyed some parts of this part of the trilogy but, all in all, this is a dull story that really doesn't go anywhere. Like the characters in this story, we readers are also waiting for the end of the war and this wait is full of dullness. We also take our pleasure in the few short sections of interesting story-line. Onwards to the third part of the trilogy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Sprunger

    As far as opuses go, U.S.A. is probably about as good as they come. The problem is, I'm not sure how much demand there is for an opus these days. Contemporary readers love quantity, form, repetition (see: Harry Potter, Twilight, Game of Thrones, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) - when duly monetized and adaptable for film. But we, as a people, may be turning our back on the Tolstoys and Joyces and Dos Passoses of yesteryear. I think the reason is pretty simple. The opus, grand as it is, As far as opuses go, U.S.A. is probably about as good as they come. The problem is, I'm not sure how much demand there is for an opus these days. Contemporary readers love quantity, form, repetition (see: Harry Potter, Twilight, Game of Thrones, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) - when duly monetized and adaptable for film. But we, as a people, may be turning our back on the Tolstoys and Joyces and Dos Passoses of yesteryear. I think the reason is pretty simple. The opus, grand as it is, contains a lot of cellulose that we don't make active metabolic use of. Thankfully, U.S.A. isn't as undigestible as Ulysses. But it still spends plenty of time on gibberish that, frankly, I don't see how to extract anything nutritive from. Maybe I've got a low patience threshhold for gibberish, but I found it expedient to bypass all of the "Camera Eye" segments altogether. The "Newsreel" segments were a little better, but that's probably due to my history degree (meaning I have a slight advantage contextualizing the collage). I can imagine other readers throwing their hands up in exasperation. We've forgotten the turn of the century popular verse, the yellow news slang is now arcane, and not everyone properly contextualizes Wilson's New Freedom. So, U.S.A. suffers from the limitations of its modern audience. The format is arguably dying and the (then revolutionary) experimentation comes across as pretentious. The copious use of make-believe, justplainsilly compound adjectives is tiresome. But one thing works unusually well in a convention that our generation understands, but Dos Passos couldn't have imagined. Since the story arc is told in vignettes, with distinct voices, the books can read almost like anthologies. The really effective vignettes (like "The Body of an American" which ends 1919 and "Vag" which ends the whole work) are like exceptional songs in a really big box set. Likewise, periods in certain characters' lives can be dissected from their lives as a whole - and the intersection of those lives with the lives of others - and enjoyed á la carte. I wouldn't go as far as to say one can just pick up U.S.A., turn to a random selection, and blow a quarter of an hour the way one does, say, a poetry anthology. It still needs to be read cover-to-cover. But moving beyond fixation on continuity and reducing the focus to the individual piece makes more enjoyable work of digesting the 1200 or so pages of this baby. I confess, my underlying reason for reading U.S.A. was to be able to say I had (isn't that the same reason we read Ulysses or War and Peace outside of school?). But unlike other things I read for the same disingenuous reason, U.S.A. was pretty goddamn enjoyable. Despite the gripes I have with it, there are so many slick licks peppered throughout that you find your head sort of bobbing along in time when Dos Passos really gets rocking. Putting William Jennings Bryan poolside and throwing in a cameo by Houdini might be as gimmicky as harmonized guitars in a Boston song, but damn if it doesn't tickle our guilty pleasure.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Indeed, this is "the great American novel"--so far. It is certainly far and away the best I have ever encountered and, yes, I suffered through Melville's opus about fishing. Very few times have I finished a novel of well over a thousand pages and strongly regretted that there was no more. The only other instance that comes to mind is Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers. As a course in American history, U.S.A. is strongly recommended to anyone who has done the basic, high school level coursework Indeed, this is "the great American novel"--so far. It is certainly far and away the best I have ever encountered and, yes, I suffered through Melville's opus about fishing. Very few times have I finished a novel of well over a thousand pages and strongly regretted that there was no more. The only other instance that comes to mind is Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers. As a course in American history, U.S.A. is strongly recommended to anyone who has done the basic, high school level coursework but wants to actually get the feel of the nation from about 1900 to the Depression--and not just the feel of one character, one region or one class, but a panoramic picture of the messy, struggling whole. It is to be noted that Dos Passos went on to write a number of history texts, informed, one presumes, by the research that went into this trilogy.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rob T

    I had a habit of writing English papers about economics in literature, so the U.S.A. trilogy is like a dream come true. A student could spend years writing about class and money in this book. What really made it sing for me was my own sadness about the America that could have been and the America that happened instead. Add to that Dos Passos's fantastic voices and it's well worth a read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    John Dos Passos published his trilogy in the 1930’s. The titles of the three volumes are The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money. The work is a collage of newspaper headlines, biographies of famous Americans, stream-of-consciousness autobiography, and fictional narrative that traces through its segmented story the history of the country from the Spanish American War through the First World War and into the decade thereafter. The first novel in the trilogy ends just as the United States is John Dos Passos published his trilogy in the 1930’s. The titles of the three volumes are The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money. The work is a collage of newspaper headlines, biographies of famous Americans, stream-of-consciousness autobiography, and fictional narrative that traces through its segmented story the history of the country from the Spanish American War through the First World War and into the decade thereafter. The first novel in the trilogy ends just as the United States is making its rather belated entry into World War I. The second novel ends as the war is over. The final work moves into the 1920’s. The portions of the book that contain fictional narrative are told through the lenses of twelve diverse characters whose lives intersect unpredictably, gradually forming a tapestry of political and economic life as well as social commentary, most of it generally pessimistic about the trajectory of the country during the first few decades of the 20th century. The labor movement and issues of capitalism and exploitation of workers continue to interest the author throughout the narrative, his sympathies being generally socialistic. Dos Passos is a perceptive writer as well as a skillful stylist, and the book is easy to read even as it raises social and philosophical issues worth pondering today. He has had an important influence on subsequent American fiction writers even as he also wrote in other genres, work sometimes reflecting his gradual movement to the political right, a surprise in view of his leftwing perspectives in the present trilogy. Dos Passos’ syntax is often luxuriant, his command of long complex sentences being flawless and even riveting. His use of dialogue clearly differentiates his characters. The dialogue is also often dated, his idioms and clichés probably accurately reflecting the period of which he writes, but they can quickly becoming cloying and distracting. He writes mostly of the middle and the under-class of society, although some of his characters have flashes of existence among the well-to-do, usually at the expense of those less fortunate. For most of the men, sex and alcohol function as palliatives to the disappointment of their lives. For the women, the same is often true, although sex also functions as a means – often successfully, sometimes not – of insuring male interest and financial support. This is a creative work that illuminates a three-decade period of American history, focusing less on major historical events in themselves than on the lives of common people impacted by the shifts of history going on around them. If the tone seems often to be grim and gritty and the lives of the characters too often alcohol-sodden, that may accurately reflect the lives of many people then alive. It is hard to read this book without being mindful of today’s increasing income disparity between the super-wealthy and the rest of society. The pace of the trilogy moves quickly, and the story and its method of presentation are not usually dull, although midway through the third volume this reader found the tedium of the characters’ lives beginning to precipitate tedium in his continued reading of the narrative. Nonetheless the trilogy is worth the effort.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Yow! Too much to say about this - random observations - the depictions of post-WWI US and European strategy around control of oil-producing parts of the globe seems startlingly up-to-date, as does the wrangling of various business tycoons with the recently birthed FDA. By contrast, the tribulations of anyone who catches a venereal disease in the era before antibiotics, the passing reference to an "icebox" that actually required blocks of ice to keep things cold and so on are interesting period Yow! Too much to say about this - random observations - the depictions of post-WWI US and European strategy around control of oil-producing parts of the globe seems startlingly up-to-date, as does the wrangling of various business tycoons with the recently birthed FDA. By contrast, the tribulations of anyone who catches a venereal disease in the era before antibiotics, the passing reference to an "icebox" that actually required blocks of ice to keep things cold and so on are interesting period detail. The actual prose style is so 20th century that the narrative often feels much further forward in time than any number of books with which it is contemporaneous.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elh52

    I don't understand why everyone is still looking for the Great American Novel. It was written by John Dos Passos back in the '30s. Ok, its actually three novels bound together as a trilogy, but more's the luck. It you have ever wanted to go back in time and stand in the middle of America during the first part of the 20th century while everything happened around you, now's your chance. And be sure to have music by George Gershwin playing in the background. I like this book so much I own two I don't understand why everyone is still looking for the Great American Novel. It was written by John Dos Passos back in the '30s. Ok, its actually three novels bound together as a trilogy, but more's the luck. It you have ever wanted to go back in time and stand in the middle of America during the first part of the 20th century while everything happened around you, now's your chance. And be sure to have music by George Gershwin playing in the background. I like this book so much I own two copies; one that I've worn out and one that I haven't.

  12. 5 out of 5

    chris

    Astounding! Among the finest books ever written. From this point on I propose that in cartoons, when a character is shown sleepless and reading a characteristically lengthy book, that that book be U.S.A instead of War and Peace.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Miranda Davis

    This is the Great American Novel Trilogy. Innovative structure even for today (storytelling through vignettes as well as straight narration). Just an incredible, involving, sweeping epic depiction of the U.S. in the 20's (wobblies, Fighting Bob Lafollette, unions, everything and everyone, no joke). From the snapshots and the fragments from various characters' POV emerges a portrait of our country that is unforgettable. This, for me, is a desert island book. I could read it hundreds of times and This is the Great American Novel Trilogy. Innovative structure even for today (storytelling through vignettes as well as straight narration). Just an incredible, involving, sweeping epic depiction of the U.S. in the 20's (wobblies, Fighting Bob Lafollette, unions, everything and everyone, no joke). From the snapshots and the fragments from various characters' POV emerges a portrait of our country that is unforgettable. This, for me, is a desert island book. I could read it hundreds of times and find fresh delights. Why oh why do we have to read Ethan Frome and Old Man and the Sea in high school for God's sake but not this?! SOOOOOO good.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Christ, took me long enough, but I finally finished the whole trilogy. And damned if it wasn't totally rewarding. The 42nd Parallel was the most enjoyable of the three to read, with its long, almost proto-beat travel passages and its sense of boundless optimism for the working class in America. As the characters become more and more complex and their actions become more and more intertwined over the course of the trilogy, you find yourself totally sucked into their world. Highlight moment: the Christ, took me long enough, but I finally finished the whole trilogy. And damned if it wasn't totally rewarding. The 42nd Parallel was the most enjoyable of the three to read, with its long, almost proto-beat travel passages and its sense of boundless optimism for the working class in America. As the characters become more and more complex and their actions become more and more intertwined over the course of the trilogy, you find yourself totally sucked into their world. Highlight moment: the end of the second novel, 1919... that shit's amazing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    U.S.A. is the slice of a continent. U.S.A. is a group of holding companies, some aggregations of trade unions, a set of laws bound in calf, a radio network, a chain of moving picture theatres, a column of stockquotations rubbed out and written in by a Western Union boy on a blackboard, a public-library full of old newspapers and dogeared historybooks with protests scrawled on the margins in pencil. U.S.A. is the world's greatest rivervalley fringed with mountains and hills, U.S.A. is a set of U.S.A. is the slice of a continent. U.S.A. is a group of holding companies, some aggregations of trade unions, a set of laws bound in calf, a radio network, a chain of moving picture theatres, a column of stockquotations rubbed out and written in by a Western Union boy on a blackboard, a public-library full of old newspapers and dogeared historybooks with protests scrawled on the margins in pencil. U.S.A. is the world's greatest rivervalley fringed with mountains and hills, U.S.A. is a set of bigmouthed officials with too many bankaccounts. U.S.A. is a lot of men buried in their uniforms in Arlington Cemetery. U.S.A. is the letters at the end of an address when you are away from home. But mostly U.S.A. is the speech of the people. —p.3You won't find a single straight story here, although there are some threads that run through the whole work. If you're looking for a simple "Once upon a time..." that speeds without swerving all the way through to "...happily ever after," then look elsewhere. All is chaos and rumble in U.S.A.—voices leaking through from a spinning radio dial; newsreels whose very nouns are dust from our perspective a century along... but John Dos Passos brings them all to sweaty, frenetic life in this amazing and enduring book. U.S.A. is actually a trilogy—its individual volumes are The 42nd Parallel, 1919 and The Big Money—but it has been available as a single edition since the 1930s, and its components really do blend into a nearly seamless whole which is well served by the Library of America edition I read. I will be referring to it in the singular throughout this review. * I first became aware of U.S.A. through its imitators... in particular, through John Brunner's landmark sf novel Stand on Zanzibar, which absorbed, altered and re-emitted its structure in order to portray a dystopian future, and more recently via David Brin's reference to it in his novel Existence. But this is the original, the pure quill; it carries the freshness of discovery and the weight of history. There are plenty of history-makers, in fact, whose brief biographies grace these pages... take for example this poetic epitaph for Andrew Carnegie: Andrew Carnegie gave millions for peace and libraries and scientific institutes and endowments and thrift whenever he made a billion dollars he endowed an institution to promote universal peace always except in time of war. —p.231But like a fictionalized version of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, U.S.A. focuses mostly on working-class protagonists: ordinary people in modest roles. Dos Passos' camera eye roams like a literary Robert Altman's, over mechanics and dressmakers, labor activists and drunken aviators, ambitious men and women and those just trying to get by. They have their own voices, these poetically-minded publicity consultants and demure personal assistants. It feels like time travel—You Are There. And much of the power of his prose comes directly from Dos Passos' ear for vernacular—that "speech of the people." There's a downside to that accurate ear, though. Dos Passos was, to the extent that it's possible to divine his own views from his fiction (always a mug's game), only interested in describing, not condemning, any particular race, religion, gender or orientation—but in so doing, he reproduces not just the cadences of ordinary speech but also its evils. Dos Passos' diversity of voices does not extend to those of African-Americans, Asians and Native Americans, for example, who are rarely if ever heard from directly, and the vilest of pejoratives aimed at these groups and others fall all too easily from the lips of his all-white protagonists. Nevertheless, Dos Passos' own sympathies always seem to lie with the persecuted, not their persecutors. The role—or perhaps a better word would be "plight"—of women in U.S.A. is similarly problematic, but again that seems to be more a matter of description than prescription. Dos Passos does in fact devote many chapters to strong and memorable women like stenographer Janey Williams, decorator Eveline Hutchins and social activist Mary French... but even so they are largely defined by their relationships to men—sexual, romantic and occasionally even otherwise. Dos Passos writes unflinchingly of seductions ("making love" meant, at the time, not just intercourse but the flirting, persuasion and caresses that lead up to the act) and their aftermath—from pregnancies to gonorrhea. Men and women were as sex-mad in the early 1900s as in any era, of course—but the near-total absence of reliable contraception and of safe ways to terminate an unplanned pregnancy (abortions don't stop being needed just because they're illegal or stigmatized; they just get harder to obtain) made for a huge disparity in the power relationships between sexes. Dos Passos is also unafraid to explore the underside of American politics, the way groupthink and the pressure of public opinion work to suppress dissent even in a society that supposedly reveres its Bill of Rights. He relays with great sympathy the pacifist and isolationist views of the people who tried to keep the United States out of World War I, and the punishments they received for expressing their unpopular views in the face of the unstoppable drums of war. It's instructive to read this work after experiencing George W. Bush's presidency... despite the manifold and very real inroads on freedom made during the Dubya years, the crackdown on anti-war speech during WWI was even more brutal and draconian. Dos Passos held a dim view of Adolf Hitler, too—his passing reference to "Handsome Adolf" in The Big Money is clearly sarcastic—long before der Führer's impact on history was clear to most others. The American Plan; automotive prosperity seeping down from above; it turned out there were strings to it. —p.809In economics, too, Dos Passos shows his analytic skills as well as his regard for the underdog. It's hard to imagine now just how incredibly brutal American working-class life was before World War I, but Dos Passos observes and reports with clinical precision on how union activism was suppressed without mercy. Despite repeating clever slurs like "I. Won't. Work," for the most part his perspective remains liberal, even socialist—the Industrial Workers of the World, to give them their proper name, come across as valiant victims fighting a doomed rear-guard action against the owners and managers of the great industrial concerns—steel, oil, coal, rail—who became so wealthy while their workers bled and starved. It's no wonder that talk of a socialist revolution was so serious here before, and after, the distraction of the Great War. U.S.A. does mention, but underplays, the role that concessions from corporate owners, however grudging, and the general rise in prosperity of the U.S., had in defusing the tensions that had seemed so likely to lead to bloody revolution in this country. And, actually, the I.W.W. are still around. * A side note on a possible soundtrack for reading this book: I found that U.S.A. goes down well when mixed with the warm, intimate Americana of Athens, Georgia, band Bloodkin's 25-year, 5-disc retrospective One Long Hustle. (Why, yes, I do have a personal connection to the band—I used to play bass with a couple of 'em, back in the day, and my name appears within the booklet that's part of this box set.) Sometimes Dos Passos himself waxes lyrical: [...]the sky is lined with greenbacks the riveters are quiet the trucks of the producers are shoved off onto the marginal avenues winnings sing from every streetcorner —"The Camera Eye (46)", p.894orThe funeral train arrived in Hollywood on page 23 of the New York Times. —p.930 *[...]To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. —Alfred, Lord Tennyson. "Ulysses"I think I remember picking up this book once before, long ago, and bouncing off of it without even coming close to finishing. It may be that you need to have a certain perspective, a weight of years or experience, before U.S.A. makes sense. It can be a daunting endeavor at times. It took me a long time to read this volume (and a longer time than usual for me to write this review)—but there's no doubt in my mind that this is a master work, well worth the effort.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jim Leckband

    Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)Walt Whitman was talking about himself, but that quote could be the U.S.A. talking in Dos Passos overwhelming series of books that make up the U.S.A. trilogy. The trilogy is an outstanding document of how life was lived in the early part of the twentieth century up to the Depression. And I mean really how life was lived. Dos Passos attention to period details of how people dress, eat, room, travel, work, Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)Walt Whitman was talking about himself, but that quote could be the U.S.A. talking in Dos Passos overwhelming series of books that make up the U.S.A. trilogy. The trilogy is an outstanding document of how life was lived in the early part of the twentieth century up to the Depression. And I mean really how life was lived. Dos Passos attention to period details of how people dress, eat, room, travel, work, love, play and drink, drink and drink is shown in bringing his multitude of characters to life. But it's the contradictions and oppositions that Dos Passos is concerned about. How the new way of modern life is embraced and resisted - sometimes by the same character! How the opposition of labor and capital tears apart the society while nobody sees the big picture (except, perhaps, Thorstein Veblen and, of course, the author). And it's the contradiction that all the main characters are madly on the make, shooting to the next big thing, whether it's money, "revolution", the movies, etc. while yearning for the stability they can't ever seem to get. Physically the perpetual motion machine is impossible, but figuratively, the people in the U.S.A. embody it. In terms of technique, Dos Passos reminds me of Orson Welles. In fact, the book contains biographies of two of the role models of Citizen Kane - William Randolph Hearst and Samuel Insull. The bravura technique involves four basic types - 1. Following the lives of characters 2. Biographies of eminent or notorious Americans 3. Newsreel snippets of headlines and text of news events and 4. Impressionistic renderings of the memory of the author at various times and places. Together these techniques situate the reader into a front row seat of the 1900's through the 1920's. As I was finishing, I found I wanted more of these books for the times afterwards! But I think I'd find, that while the characters and events have changed, Americans are still restless and still unclear how organized labor and uncompassionate capital need each other.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Avi

    I don't generally write reviews for the classics, since I figure that many other people have already done a better job than I could do, and this isn't any exception. However, there has been some discussion of these books' connections with some Rush songs, and I do feel qualified to discuss that shortly. Most Rush fans will make the connection with the song "The Big Money", but there two other songs whose titles also bear similarities with these books: "The Camera Eye" and "Middletown Dreams". The I don't generally write reviews for the classics, since I figure that many other people have already done a better job than I could do, and this isn't any exception. However, there has been some discussion of these books' connections with some Rush songs, and I do feel qualified to discuss that shortly. Most Rush fans will make the connection with the song "The Big Money", but there two other songs whose titles also bear similarities with these books: "The Camera Eye" and "Middletown Dreams". The former is the name of many subsections in all three books, and Middletown is the name of the hometown of Mac, the first character we follow in the trilogy. However, none of the songs' lyrics really have anything to do with anything in the books, and since all three can easily be common phrases without any relation to the books at all, I would hesitate to call them direct references at all. Neil Peart has said that he's a fan of Dos Passos' writing (this is unsurprising since Peart is a genius and surely recognizes it when he reads it), he has also said that there is no relationship intended. So, that's pretty boring, but that's how it goes sometimes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Together, the three novels represent a compelling character sketch of the United States during the first three decades of the 20th century, when America was awakening to its growing power and reveling in its seemingly endless prosperity. Dos Passos advances his episodic narrative through several meticulously drawn characters that span the gamut of Jazz Age archetypes: the flapper, the revolutionary, the industrialist, the speculator, etc. Dos Passos uses his characters’ intertwined lives to Together, the three novels represent a compelling character sketch of the United States during the first three decades of the 20th century, when America was awakening to its growing power and reveling in its seemingly endless prosperity. Dos Passos advances his episodic narrative through several meticulously drawn characters that span the gamut of Jazz Age archetypes: the flapper, the revolutionary, the industrialist, the speculator, etc. Dos Passos uses his characters’ intertwined lives to explore America’s dark side—its racial and economic inequalities; its sexual hypocrisies and double-standards; and its imperialistic ambitions. The books are rounded out with pointed biographical sketches of real-life figures from the era, and Dos Passos uses the “Newsreel” and often confusing “Camera Eye” sections to enhance the books’ historic perspective.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    Dos Passos made me want to start a union at my own job. The trilogy starts off great in the 42nd Parrallel, but starts to lag in 1919. The Big Money is where Dos Passos makes his message, along with his disappointment clear. America it appears really hasn't changed. If anything, it's cyclical. "They have clubbed us off the streets they are stronger they are rich they hire and fire the politicians the newspapereditors the old judges the small men with reputations the collegepresidents the Dos Passos made me want to start a union at my own job. The trilogy starts off great in the 42nd Parrallel, but starts to lag in 1919. The Big Money is where Dos Passos makes his message, along with his disappointment clear. America it appears really hasn't changed. If anything, it's cyclical. "They have clubbed us off the streets they are stronger they are rich they hire and fire the politicians the newspapereditors the old judges the small men with reputations the collegepresidents the wardheelers (listen businessmen collegepresidents judges America will not forget her betrayers) they hire the men with guns the uniforms the policecars the patrolwagons all right you have won you will kill the brave men our friends tonight" -John Dos Passos (his punctuation)

  20. 5 out of 5

    John E

    Read in the 1960s and it was fresh even then when it was 30 years old. Still one of the great novels of all time. Innovated in sturcture and socially correct. It's on my short re-read list!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    I want to appreciate stream of consciousness writing, but I cannot find any artistic merit in it. Thankfully, John Dos Passos restricts that style to certain short sections of The 42nd Parallel, 27 mini-chapters intended to give a broader perspective than those of the expository characters. Perhaps for other readers it serves that purpose. The narrative is also interspersed with 19 “newsreels”, in which he cuts short phrases from the headlines of various contemporary news stories. Unfortunately, I want to appreciate stream of consciousness writing, but I cannot find any artistic merit in it. Thankfully, John Dos Passos restricts that style to certain short sections of The 42nd Parallel, 27 mini-chapters intended to give a broader perspective than those of the expository characters. Perhaps for other readers it serves that purpose. The narrative is also interspersed with 19 “newsreels”, in which he cuts short phrases from the headlines of various contemporary news stories. Unfortunately, for a reader far removed from the time in which these events took place there is rarely enough detail to have more than guess at what is actually happening. I do enjoy the stories of Mac, Janey, J.Ward, Eleanor, and Charley, but even here Dos Passos manages to annoy by being cute with language, inventing his own compound words with no discernible rhyme or reason for their selection. Each of the narratives are interesting in their own right, but while a few of the main characters do have chance encounters there is no overarching plot holding them together. This is almost more like a collection of short stories written to together paint a picture of American life at the beginning of the 20th century than a traditional novel. I cannot say that this is among my favorite reads, but it has shown enough to convince me to give 1919 a try. ... It was with some trepidation that I followed The 42nd Parallel with the remaining two books in the series. To make the task a bit less onerous, I stopped reading the “Camera Eye” sections entirely and only skimmed through the “Newsreel” chapters. Dos Passos took up a new frustrating habit of inserting paragraph breaks seemingly arbitrarily in the middle of sentences. I am sure there was some poetic purpose behind this, but its effect was to remove any interest I may have had in reading something else “artistic” in the near future. The cast of disparate characters fractured enough over the rest of the series that by the time I reached a chapter about some particular character I had forgotten entirely which of the stories thus far applied to them. As I expected, there was nothing to eventually tie the stories together. Both books end around momentous events — the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, but these cannot be seen as real resolution since most of the characters are involved peripherally or not at all. I can say a few good things about the books. They have indeed painted a broad picture of life in the United States in the first 30 years of the 20th Century. I learned more about the socialist movements during those times than in any study of history, and have seen more clearly how the transfer from government by/for/of the people to government by/for/of the corporations was already well underway before even my grandparents were born. In the one Camera Eye that I did read carefully after the fact, Dos Passos wonderfully turns around the anti-immigrant sentiment that fueled the Red Scare to note that it was the men who sailed from distant shores to find a land where all men were created equal who were Americans in spirit: America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have turned our language inside out who have taken the clean words our fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul their hired men sit on the judge’s bench they sit back with their feet on the tables under the dome of the State House they are ignorant of our beliefs they have the dollars the guns the armed forces the powerplants they have built the electricchair and hired the executioner to throw the switch all right we are two nations America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have bought the laws and fenced off the meadows and cut down the woods for pulp and turned our pleasant cities into slums and sweated the wealth out of our people and when they want to they hire the executioner to throw the switch … we stand defeated America (Lack of punctuation, capitalization, and sensible structure preserved in case you somehow find it meaningful.) Now, time to pick up a book from someone who knows how to tell a story.

  22. 5 out of 5

    David

    The USA Trilogy John Dos Passos (1930-1936) #23 The 42nd Parallel March 22, 2013 Whoever picked these books for the Modern Library list had a GIANT boner for Marx, communism and the worker’s struggle. I have learned more about the IWW and the Marxist movement and brotherhood than I have ever cared to know. The interesting thing about these books is that they open my eyes to see the history of unified labor (i.e. modern political communism), and understand that the “system” that people bitch about. The USA Trilogy John Dos Passos (1930-1936) #23 The 42nd Parallel March 22, 2013 Whoever picked these books for the Modern Library list had a GIANT boner for Marx, communism and the worker’s struggle. I have learned more about the IWW and the Marxist movement and brotherhood than I have ever cared to know. The interesting thing about these books is that they open my eyes to see the history of unified labor (i.e. modern political communism), and understand that the “system” that people bitch about. It seems then, as now, the people that are pro-communism and “united labor” talk and wring their hands about problems of “free speech” and “worker’s rights”, then make poor life decisions that doom them to the “working class”. That, or they are hypothetical academics. Either way, I’m sick of hearing about their ideas that don’t work. You know what gets you ahead in life more than anything else? Personal responsibility, that’s what. The main characters in this book (for the most part) end up bumming around, stealing shit, dropping out of school, knocking up girls, then leaving because they feel trapped by the system. They trap themselves. You can’t have individual freedom without accountability. 1919 April 6, 2013 I found this particular book to be more disjointed than the first. I have read three books during the reading of this and fell asleep reading it (and not even in bed) on four occasions. 1919 focused a bit more on the capitalist aspect (sort of) of one of the main characters, but still relied heavily on the “world revolution” theme so prevalent in the first novel. Another continued theme in this book is that most of the male characters knock up their girlfriends and then either a) force them to get abortions, or b) leave them. Take this particular example from a character that I liked at first, but ends up being just as despicable as almost every other character encountered so far in this book. He is named Richard Savage (all parentheses are mine): “He thought of Anne Elizabeth (the girl he knocked up) going home alone in a taxicab through the wet streets. He wished he had a great many lives so that he might have spent one of them with Anne Elizabeth. Might write a poem about that and send it to her. And the smell of the little cyclamens. In the café opposite the waiters were turning the chairs upside down and setting them on tables. He wished he had a great many lives so that he might be a waiter in a café turning the chairs upside down.” What an asshole. What a savage dick. I just ruined your life – maybe I’ll write you a poem about my ambiguous notions that if there were multiple “me’s”, I might do the right things, but if there were multiple “me’s”, I might also be a waiter. By the way, nice fucking flowers. Just a bit earlier in the book he tells her: “…it’s no more my fault than it is yours…if you’d taken proper precautions…” All the protagonists in this book suck. The Big Money June 6, 2013 You know what – it has taken me so long to get through this book that it is almost impossible to put it all together in a review. I don’t know if it would have come together anyway. The story line was so weak that this just felt like random essays and Dos Passos trying to tie up loose ends (poorly). The only interesting part of this whole trilogy happened in this particular installment, and that was the wrapping up of the Charley Anderson story. With a bit more creativity, that might have even redeemed this last book, but it seemed to me that in the end it still somehow managed to fall a bit flat. Then the story jumps right in to a minor character and proceeds to get boring again. I honestly had to power my way through this book and it was quite a test of patience for me. While the writing style was easy to understand, it seemed like in the Camera Eye and Newsreel snippets that punctured this story Dos Passos tried too hard to be an experimental writer. Instead of adding the intended color to the series, most of the time it bogged down a story that was already mired in literary muck. Yuck, Meh, and further indifference. 3.5

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dan Gorman

    Its portrayal of morally decadent and heartless socialites in some ways out-Hemingway's Hemingway (see "The Sun Also Rises"). But the trilogy is remarkable for the way it synthesizes the major historical themes of the 1920s shortly after the decade ended. Dos Passos is sharply critical of capitalism, but recognizes the power of the economic system, which is now larger than (and feeds upon) individuals. His sympathies lie with the leftist critics, who repeatedly fail to propose a viable Its portrayal of morally decadent and heartless socialites in some ways out-Hemingway's Hemingway (see "The Sun Also Rises"). But the trilogy is remarkable for the way it synthesizes the major historical themes of the 1920s shortly after the decade ended. Dos Passos is sharply critical of capitalism, but recognizes the power of the economic system, which is now larger than (and feeds upon) individuals. His sympathies lie with the leftist critics, who repeatedly fail to propose a viable alternative to capitalism. The book is a product of its time regarding race and LGBT issues, although it's worth noting that Dos Passos criticizes characters who end friendships because of racial or religious prejudice. Some of the "Camera Eye" passages, in which Dos Passos employs stream-of-consciousness prose, come across as weak imitations of James Joyce. The reader struggles to keep the many bankers, lawyers, and bureaucrats straight, but I suspect that is Dos Passos's intention, showing how people become faceless agents of capitalism. Despite these reservations, I think "U.S.A." is clearly a masterpiece of twentieth-century fiction, and on a historiographic level it provides genuine insight into the lives of working-class white Americans between 1895 and 1929.

  24. 5 out of 5

    James

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. Upon finishing the third of the three novels, I could not help but draw parallels between the time in which the books were set (and written,) the early 20th century, and now, the early 21st century. As my 11th grade English teacher noted, "humanity's circumstances will always be different, but the human condition never changes." I can't say the novels that make up this trilogy are an easy read, nor did I find them particularly enjoyable, but I The more things change, the more they stay the same. Upon finishing the third of the three novels, I could not help but draw parallels between the time in which the books were set (and written,) the early 20th century, and now, the early 21st century. As my 11th grade English teacher noted, "humanity's circumstances will always be different, but the human condition never changes." I can't say the novels that make up this trilogy are an easy read, nor did I find them particularly enjoyable, but I am glad that I read them. The first and last books are noticeably better than the second, but all three are priceless in their observations and as a refresher on early 20th century history. It was, for me, particularly interesting to note that the passions and idealism of youth tend to be pretty much now what they were then. Also, the Newsreel sections reminded me that, while I often believe our society is going to hell in a hand-basket, so too did anyone reading the headlines in the early 20th century, and for mostly the same reasons.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carol Storm

    Frantic and tedious, didactic and oversimplified, and always faintly artificial, like the characters are not real people, but instead a creaky bunch of marionettes held by a very old man with arthritis. In the book there were many characters with different classbackgrounds and various uncontrollable sexualneeds. They dealt with the classtruggle in a way that was at times highlydramatic but also highly predictable. Everyone drank a lot and had sex a lot and the good characters came to realize that Frantic and tedious, didactic and oversimplified, and always faintly artificial, like the characters are not real people, but instead a creaky bunch of marionettes held by a very old man with arthritis. In the book there were many characters with different classbackgrounds and various uncontrollable sexualneeds. They dealt with the classtruggle in a way that was at times highlydramatic but also highly predictable. Everyone drank a lot and had sex a lot and the good characters came to realize that capitalism was destructive and evil, while the evil characters became monsters and just died horribly or else got richer and richer while talking about democracyandfreeenterprise. All the female characters who aren't whores are ice-cold social climbers who live to tease tease tease regular joes who can't get a nickel or a squaredeal from the fat fat fat cigarsmoking bosses who just keep on getting richer richer richer.

  26. 5 out of 5

    S.D.

    Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy (The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money) is something of an anti-heroic epic, in which the intertwined lives of characters representing broad American types unfold to present a vision of America that fulfills the promise of American Idealism by drawing attention to the very elements that idealism so frequently undermines. In that sense, the U.S.A. of Dos Passos’ is a utopia – yet his abrupt juxtaposition of poeticized abstractions of historical elements and Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy (The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money) is something of an anti-heroic epic, in which the intertwined lives of characters representing broad American types unfold to present a vision of America that fulfills the promise of American Idealism by drawing attention to the very elements that idealism so frequently undermines. In that sense, the U.S.A. of Dos Passos’ is a utopia – yet his abrupt juxtaposition of poeticized abstractions of historical elements and disjointed first person stream-of-conscious intrusions against his engaging narratives also hints at a dystopia: a reality in which his characters are unaware they exist, and which prefers they remain unaware. A superb example of thematic/stylistic balance.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Will

    This is one of the most unusual books I have ever read. It is difficult to even describe the plot and it takes a while to learn "how to read". But, you finish with a pretty fair flavor of the United States (politically, economically, and socially) immediately preceding, during, and after WWI. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This book is still relevant even though it seems to have been forgotten--like many of the people described in the short bios interspersed throughout This is one of the most unusual books I have ever read. It is difficult to even describe the plot and it takes a while to learn "how to read". But, you finish with a pretty fair flavor of the United States (politically, economically, and socially) immediately preceding, during, and after WWI. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This book is still relevant even though it seems to have been forgotten--like many of the people described in the short bios interspersed throughout (Randolph Bourne, Charles Steinmetz,F.W. Taylor, Thorstein Veblen, Isadora Duncan, Rudoplh Valentino, etc.)I preferred it to The Great Gatsby.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Simon Mcleish

    Originally published on my blog here in May and June 2000. The 42nd Parallel The first novel of the famous USA trilogy presents a picture of that country from the beginning of the century until 1917, when the US declared war on Germany. (The trilogy as a whole continues until the early 1930s.) In these novels, dos Passos created a new literary style, frequently admired if rarely imitated, in which documentary style clips are used to create background, to relate the characters to political and Originally published on my blog here in May and June 2000. The 42nd Parallel The first novel of the famous USA trilogy presents a picture of that country from the beginning of the century until 1917, when the US declared war on Germany. (The trilogy as a whole continues until the early 1930s.) In these novels, dos Passos created a new literary style, frequently admired if rarely imitated, in which documentary style clips are used to create background, to relate the characters to political and economic events and to make the novel seem to be a panoramic picture of the state of the nation. Each section of the novel is divided into recurring pieces. The longest piece of each section forms the main story, and is basically a narrative about one of the main characters. Then there are newsreel sections, which contain headlines and clips from newspapers, often fragments of sentences as though what you read is an impression gained from flicking through a paper very quickly. There are also pieces summarising the lives of men and women who had a formative influence on their times, such as Thomas Edison. The most interesting pieces, though most difficult to take in, are the 'Camera Eye' narratives, which are also fragmented, and are basically stream of consciousness style snippets of description grouped together more or less randomly. The end product of reading this novel is a feeling of atmosphere. The plot is not important (and, indeed, practically non-existent); characters may be well drawn, but their purpose is to illustrate the times in which they live. The way that the novel is put together is so clever that it can achieve this without using reams of description. The major problem is in the newsreel sections, because the material selected there presupposes a fair amount of knowledge of American politics in the first few years of the century. Headlines are not helpful in creating an atmosphere if you have never heard of any of the people mentioned. Of the imitators of this trilogy, both the most successful and the one who has followed dos Passos most slavishly is John Brunner, in his series of dystopias. He has actually used what he has taken from the USA trilogy in a more fundamental way. Because he was writing science fiction, the whole background had to be invented, and Brunner used the documentary portions to establish parts of that background (such as slang expressions, bits and pieces of future mass media) picked up on in the later narrative portions. The 42nd Parallel is more an extremely extended description than a novel in any traditional sense; its sections do not lead anywhere in particular, and the lack of plot means that the various characters are not integrated for any purpose (some of them meet, but that is all). Nineteen Nineteen The second part of the USA trilogy is about the involvement of that country in the First World War, from the declaration of war with Germany in 1917 to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. It is a continuation of The 42nd Parallel, in the same semi-documentary style with two differences. The characters from whose points of view the fictional sections are told are now, though several are already known to the reader of the earlier book (the brother of one character, the best friend of another); and these sections are far longer in relation to the others. This second change is the main reason why Nineteen Nineteen is less successful than its predecessor. The longer sections reveal dos Passos' weaknesses as a writer, particularly in the portrayal of character, and the reader loses interest. His concentration on the relationship between labour and capital becomes almost an obsession. (It is an important theme in the period of American history covered by the trilogy, which effectively saw the destruction of the far left as a political force.) Much of the action takes place in France, and the main idea communicated is something of the effect that being soldiers in Europe - both on the front line itself, though this is skated over, and in the different culture behind it - had on the Americans who returned. The Big Money The final volume of dos Passos' USA trilogy deals with the book of the mid twenties, ending with the stock market crash. The theme is making money, big money, through industries that took off in that decade (aircraft manufacture, film), set against the usual background of labour relations. The stricture of The Big Money is like that of The 42nd Parallel and Nineteen Nineteen, with the alternation of contrasting documentary and narrative sections. The weaknesses are also alike, particularly in plot and characterisation, and since dos Passos has further expanded the fictional sections, these weaknesses are yet more apparent. All in all, I expected far more from this trilogy than it actually delivered, because I really liked novels which imitate it, like Stand on Zanzibar. It rather bored me, and towards the end I kept going mainly by thinking "just 150 pages to go". The idea is good, but the execution deeply flawed.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mommalibrarian

    This is historical fiction to us but was reality in all its complexity when it was written. A big time commitment to read, sweeping in scope. There are lots of better reviews. Here is one of the 'News Reels' that separate sections of narrative. GREEKS IN BATTLE FLEE BEFORE COPS Passengers in Sleeping Car Aroused At point of Gun Flow, river, flow Down to the sea Bright stream bring my loved one Home to me FIGHTING AT TORREON at the end of the last campaign, writes Champ Clark, Missouri's brilliant This is historical fiction to us but was reality in all its complexity when it was written. A big time commitment to read, sweeping in scope. There are lots of better reviews. Here is one of the 'News Reels' that separate sections of narrative. GREEKS IN BATTLE FLEE BEFORE COPS Passengers in Sleeping Car Aroused At point of Gun Flow, river, flow Down to the sea Bright stream bring my loved one Home to me FIGHTING AT TORREON at the end of the last campaign, writes Champ Clark, Missouri's brilliant Congressman, I had about collapsed from overwork, nervous tension, loss of sleep and appetite and constant speaking, but three bottles of Electric Bitters mad em allright. Roosevelt Is Made Leader Of New Party BRYAN'S THROAT CUT BY CLARK; AIDS PARKER True, dear one, true I'm trying hard to be But hear me say It's a very very long long way From the banks of the Seine the crime for which Richardson was sentenced to die in the electric chair was the confessed murder of his former sweetheart 19 year old Avis Linnel of Hyannis a pupil in the New England Conservatory of Music at Boston. The girl stood in the way of the minister;s marriage to a society girl and heiress of Brookline both through an engagement that still existed between the two and because of a condition in which Miss Linnell found herself. The girl was deceived into taking a poison giver her by Richardson which she believed would remedy that condition and died in her room at the Young Women's Christian Association. On the historical information covered, I was surprised by the amount of activity of socialists, communists, and the labor movement. They may have been emphasized because of Dos Passos private philosophy. Also this was a time of great wealth inequality and there were many people in desperate conditions before the Great Depression even began.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cyril

    The USA trilogy comprises three books that really read as one continuous story. It tells the tales of numerous individuals as they are buffeted by the currents of history around the early part of the 20th century. The format of the novels is uncoventional: interspersed among the passages about the characters in the book are news headlines, vignettes of historical figures and autobiographical sketches. There is no single plot, and there is no tidy ending for many of the characters The lives are The USA trilogy comprises three books that really read as one continuous story. It tells the tales of numerous individuals as they are buffeted by the currents of history around the early part of the 20th century. The format of the novels is uncoventional: interspersed among the passages about the characters in the book are news headlines, vignettes of historical figures and autobiographical sketches. There is no single plot, and there is no tidy ending for many of the characters The lives are consumed by the search for money, alcohol and sex. The most passionate people are the lrft-wing activists, who are presented sympathetically in their struggles for the working class. However, despite the exacting detail of the lives of the main players, conspicuously absent - except for brief instances - is love. Without this particular quality, the characters' lives seem purposeless. This is a monumental work, a great American novel. It is long, and there are many characters and details to remember; however it is well worth the effort to read.

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