Synopses & Reviews
Our nation began with the simple phrase, "We the People". But who were and are "We"? Who were we in 1776, in 1865, or 1968, and is there any continuity in character between the we of those years and the nearly 300 million people living in the radically different America of today?
With Made in America, Claude S. Fischer draws on decades of historical, psychological, and social research to answer that question by tracking the evolution of American character and culture over three centuries. He explodes myths — such as that contemporary Americans are more mobile and less religious than their ancestors, or that they are more focused on money and consumption — and reveals instead how greater security and wealth have only reinforced the independence, egalitarianism, and commitment to community that characterized our people from the earliest years. Skillfully drawing on personal stories of representative Americans, Fischer shows that affluence and social progress have allowed more people to participate fully in cultural and political life, thus broadening the category of "American" yet at the same time what it means to be an American has retained surprising continuity with much earlier notions of American character.
Firmly in the vein of such classics as The Lonely Crowd and Habits of the Heart, yet challenging many of their conclusions Made in America takes readers beyond the simplicity of headlines and the actions of elites to show us the lives, aspirations, and emotions of ordinary Americans, from the settling of the colonies to the settling of the suburbs.
"Last year, the British production company that made what has become the popular series America: The Story of Us
for the History Channel invited me to review the script, which treats the invention of America across 400 years. I advised against the use of the term 'American national character' on the grounds that it was misleading, since all Americans don't have the same character, and the term elides variations in race, class, region, religion, ethnicity, gender, and politics. In any case, it was academically unfashionable. Now, Claude S. Fischer's Made in America
has rehabilitated the expression 'American character,' at least for me." Daniel Walker Howe, The Wilson Quarterly
( read the entire Wilson Quarterly review
“Psychology has stepped down from the university chair into the marketplace” was how the New York Times
put it in 1926. Another commentator in 1929 was more biting. Psychoanalysis, he said, had over a generation, “converted the human scene into a neurotic.” Freud first used the word around 1895, and by the 1920s psychoanalysis was a phenomenon to be reckoned with in the United States. How it gained such purchase, taking hold in virtually every aspect of American culture, is the story Lawrence R. Samuel tells in Shrink
, the first comprehensive popular history of psychoanalysis in America.
Arriving on the scene at around the same time as the modern idea of the self, psychoanalysis has both shaped and reflected the ascent of individualism in American society. Samuel traces its path from the theories of Freud and Jung to the innermost reaches of our current me-based, narcissistic culture. Along the way he shows how the arbiters of culture, high and low, from public intellectuals, novelists, and filmmakers to Good Housekeeping and the Cosmo girl, mediated or embraced psychoanalysis (or some version of it), until it could be legitimately viewed as an integral feature of American consciousness.
About the Author
Claude S. Fischer is professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of many books, including Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years and America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940.
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments
1. The Stories We Tell
5. Public Spaces
List of Abbreviations