Synopses & Reviews
The profound economic and social changes in the post-Civil War United States created new challenges to a nation founded on Enlightenment and transcendental values, religious certainties, and rural traditions. Newly-freed African Americans, emboldened women, intellectuals and artists,and a polyglot tide of immigrants found themselves in a restless new world of railroads, factories, and skyscrapers where old assumptions were being challenged and new values had yet to be created. In An American Cakewalk: Ten Syncopators of the Modern World
, Zeese Papanikolas tells the lively and entertaining story of a diverse group of figures in the arts and sciences who inhabited this new America.
Just as ragtime composers subverted musical expectations by combining European march timing with African syncopations, so this book's protagonistswho range from Emily Dickinson toThorstein Veblen and from Henry and William James to Charles Mingusinterrogated the modern American world through their own "syncopations" of cultural givens. The old antebellum slave dance, the cakewalk, with its parody of the manners and pretensions of the white folks in the Big House, provides a template of how the tricksters, shamans, poets, philosophers, ragtime pianists, and jazz musicians who inhabit this book used the arts of parody, satire, and disguise to subvert American cultural norms and to create new works of astonishing beauty and intellectual vigor.
"An American Cakewalk is a delight. Once I waded in, I did not want to be called back to shore. Not a cultural history, nor an argument with others, this book is a labor of love, serious in its prose and intentions, abounding with insight, written with verve and grace."George Cotkin, author of Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby Dick (2012)
"The great appeal of this book is its freedom from conventional categories, its charming, at times moving, style of writing, which captures a special rhythm in American popular culture. This is an important book and literate Americans should read it."John Dizikes, Professor Emeritus of American Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
An American Cakewalk is a lively and entertaining look at a group of Americans in the arts and sciences who, in the years between the Civil War and the 1970s, challenged this country's artistic and social norms through subtle and not-so-subtle syncopations of its cultural givens.
About the Author
Zeese Papanikolas lives and works in Oakland, California. A former Stegner Fellow and long-time member of the Humanities Department at the San Francisco Art Institute, his books include Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre (1991), Trickster in the Land of Dreams (1998), and American Silence (2007).