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The Story of America in Seven Books

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, July 7, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0615
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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In 1869, as our nation was recovering from the devastations of the Civil War, the critic John William DeForest described the quest for "the Great American Novel," suggesting how difficult it was to capture the complexity and diversity of the American experience in a single book. The past century and a half saw many remarkable attempts by a wide range of authors to meet this challenge and distill the essence of our nation’s history into the pages of unforgettable books.

Joseph Luzzi, a professor of comparative literature at Bard College and founder of the Virtual Book Club, explores seven books that best represent this quest to tell the American story and provide the answers to some essential questions: What does it mean to be "American"? What books have had the greatest impact on U.S. history and culture? How can fiction illuminate the hard truths of American life?

He leads a fascinating journey through the world of American literature to examine how a collection of masterpieces—Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Philip Roth's American Pastoral, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird—reveal the characters and conflicts of the American spirit.

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