cover image Americanon: An Unexpected U.S. History in Thirteen Bestselling Books

Americanon: An Unexpected U.S. History in Thirteen Bestselling Books

Jess McHugh. Dutton, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4663-6

Journalist McHugh’s appealing cultural history dissects the American character through a close examination of “ordinary, instructional books that average Americans have consulted every day.” Contending that the most popular of these books, including The Old Farmer’s Almanac, continuously published since 1792; Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, “the bestselling U.S. cookbook of all time”; and Stephen R. Covey’s 1989 self-help phenomenon, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, taught readers “about their role in society and their responsibilities to family and country,” McHugh examines how changes in American values over the past 245 years have been reflected in and spurred by “dog-eared books for daily life.” Discussing Emily Post’s 1922 guidebook Etiquette in Society, McHugh notes that Post turned to writing after divorcing her husband over his adulterous affairs, and reflects on how the ambiguity of class divisions in America fueled anxiety over the rules for social conduct. Other books that come under McHugh’s expert gaze include Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (inspired by the author overcoming his “inferiority complex” by joining the speech team at a Missouri teacher’s college) and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). Brisk publication histories and author profiles enrich the cultural analysis, which is consistently on-point. This lucid survey entertains and enlightens. (June)