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      War of the Encyclopaedists

      Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite 9781476775425

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American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt


American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt Cover




John Beckman is a professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Granta, Book, McSweeney’s, and Arizona Quarterly, among other publications. His novel The Winter Zoo was named a New York Times Notable Book. Beckman lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with his wife, the critic Marcela Valdes, and their baby daughter.

Product Details

Beckman, John
Pantheon Books
World History-General
US History-General
Series Volume:
Four Centuries of Jo
Publication Date:
9.53 x 6.62 x 1.55 in 1.8 lb

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » American Studies » General
History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » Sociology » General
History and Social Science » US History » General
History and Social Science » World History » General

American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt Used Hardcover
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Product details 432 pages Pantheon Books - English 9780307908179 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Beckman, an English professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, traces the 'three tributaries of American fun — the commercial, playful, and radically political,' from Thomas Morton's anarchic Merry Mount colony in the 1620s to its modern counterpart, Burning Man. Accounts of politically motivated fun like the Boston Tea Party and the Yippies' attempt to levitate the Pentagon are presented along with tales of pranksters like Mark Twain and P.T. Barnum, as well as accounts of playful hoaxes, such as the 'Electrical Banana,' in which a 1960s underground newspaper convinced mainstream media that smoking dried banana peels produces 'a cannabic effect.' Beckman laments the commercialized fun of organized sports as well as the neutering of counterculture spirit by Madison Avenue advertising or pop culture's 'test-tube teens.' He also traces African-American culture from Pinkster festivals and Brother Rabbit folktales — later hijacked by white journalist Joel Chandler Harris — to the Harlem Renaissance and the emergence of hip-hop in the 1970s South Bronx. Other notable characters include the 'b'hoys and g'hals,' Irish street gangsters with an affinity for Shakespeare; the Merry Pranksters and their LSD-infused parties with the Hell's Angels; and Jazz Age flappers like Zelda Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Beckman captures the rambunctiousness, subversiveness, and inventiveness of the American spirit, as well as its ugliness, violence, and bigotry. He also raises interesting questions about complacency and 'the death of fun.'" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by , Here is an animated and wonderfully engaging work of cultural history that lays out America’s unruly past by describing the ways in which cutting loose has always been, and still is, an essential part of what it means to be an American.


From the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Americans have defied their stodgy rules and hierarchies with pranks, dances, stunts, and wild parties, shaping the national character in profound and lasting ways. In the nation’s earlier eras, revelers flouted Puritans, Patriots pranked Redcoats, slaves lampooned masters, and forty-niners bucked the saddles of an increasingly uptight middle class. In the twentieth century, fun-loving Americans celebrated this heritage and pushed it even further: flappers “barney-mugged” in “petting pantries,” Yippies showered the New York Stock Exchange with dollar bills, and B-boys invented hip-hop in a war zone in the Bronx.


This is the surprising and revelatory history that John Beckman recounts in American Fun. Tying together captivating stories of Americans’ “pursuit of happiness”—and distinguishing between real, risky fun and the bland amusements that paved the way for Hollywood, Disneyland, and Xbox—Beckman redefines American culture with a delightful and provocative thesis.


(With black-and-white illustrations throughout.)

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