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Stuff We Will READ

These are going to be part of our reading material to better understand our journey across the US. (Presented here in no particular order.)

A novel by Mark Twain, first published in December 1884. Commonly recognized as one of the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written in the vernacular, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry “Huck” Finn, best friend of Tom Sawyer and narrator of two other Twain novels (Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective).

The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Satirizing a Southern antebellum society that was already out of date by the time the work was published, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism. The drifting journey of Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, down the Mississippi River on their raft may be one of the most enduring images of escape and freedom in all ofAmerican literature.

Civil Disobedience (Resistance to Civil Government) is an essay by Henry David Thoreau that was first published in 1849. It argues that people should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that people have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice. Thoreau was motivated in part by his disgust with slavery and the Mexican-American War.

The “that government is best which governs least” was first found in this essay.

Walt Whitman has been claimed as America’s first “poet of democracy”, a title meant to reflect his ability to write in a singularly American character. A British friend of Walt Whitman, Mary Smith Whitall Costelloe, wrote: “You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass… He has expressed that civilization, ‘up to date,’ as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him. Modernist poet Ezra Pound called Whitman “America’s poet… He isAmerica.” Andrew Carnegie called him “the great poet of America so far”. Whitman considered himself a messiah-like figure in poetry. [Wiki]

On the Road is a novel by American writer Jack Kerouac, written in April 1951, and published by Viking Press in 1957. It is a largely autobiographical work that was based on the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. It is often considered a defining work of the postwar Beat Generation that was inspired by jazz, poetry, and drug experiences. While many of the names and details of Kerouac’s experiences are changed for the novel, hundreds of references in On the Road have real-world counterparts.

When the book was originally released, The New York Times hailed it as “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and most important utterance” of Kerouac’s generation.[1] The novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.

It is regarded as a classic account of the democratic system of the United States and has been used as an important reference ever since. The work is regarded as a seminal text in economics and a key work in the foundation of economic sociology.

In 1831, twenty-five year-old Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont were sent by the French government to study the American prison system. They arrived in New York City in May of that year and spent nine months traveling the United States, taking notes not only on prisons, but on all aspects of American society including the nation’s economy and its political system.

. . .

The primary focus of Democracy in America is an analysis of why republican representative democracy has succeeded in the United States while failing in so many other places. He seeks to apply the functional aspects of democracy in America to what he sees as the failings of democracy in his native France.

Tocqueville speculates on the future of democracy in the United States, discussing possible threats to democracy and possible dangers of democracy. These include his belief that democracy has a tendency to degenerate into “soft despotism” as well as the risk of developing a tyranny of the majority. He observed that the strong role religion played in the United States was due to its separation from the government, a separation all parties found agreeable. He contrasts this to France where there was what he perceived to be an unhealthy antagonism between democrats and the religious, which he relates to the connection between church and state.


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