Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture

Michael Kammen, Author, Ann Kraybill, Editor, Jane Garrett, Editor Alfred A. Knopf $40 (864p) ISBN 978-0-394-57769-2
From Lincoln to FDR to Reagan, America's leaders have invoked a mythic past, and one of the merits of Cornell historian Kammen's massive study is to show that appeals to collective memory can be a means either of resisting change or abetting it. With brilliant erudition Kammen ( A Machine That Would Go of Itself ) clarifies the selective filtering of memory that shaped the traditions and self-images of Yankees, upstart Westerners, Southerners resentful of New Englanders, apologists for Puritan tradition and whites anxious to exclude blacks and Native Americans. He illuminates the clash between modern cosmopolites (e.g., Ezra Pound) and folksy regionalists (Carl Sandburg, Stephen Vincent Benet), then charts the wild trajectory of patriotic sentiment from the Vietnam war to the present. Finally, he looks at the current epidemic of nostalgia, concluding that even as Americans historicize the present, they depoliticize the past as a way to minimize conflict. An important contribution to our understanding of how Americans define themselves and the parameters of freedom. Illustrated. History Book Club selection. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/04/1991
Release date: 11/01/1991
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 825 pages - 978-0-307-76140-8
Paperback - 880 pages - 978-0-679-74177-0
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