John Dos Passos: U.S.A. (LOA #85): The 42nd Parallel / 1919 / The Big Money

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Library of America, 1996 - 1288 pages
Unique among American books for its epic scope and panoramic social sweep, U.S.A. has long been acknowledged as a monument of modern fiction. Now The Library of America presents an exclusive one-volume edition of this enduring masterwork by John Dos Passos, including for the first time detailed notes and a chronicle of the world events that serve as a backdrop.

In the novels that make up the trilogy—The 42nd Parallel1919, and The Big Money—Dos Passos creates an unforgettable collective portrait of America, shot through with sardonic comedy and brilliant social observation. He interweaves the careers of his characters and the events of their time with a narrative verve and breathtaking technical skill that make U.S.A. among the most compulsively readable of modern classics.

A startling range of experimental devices captures the textures and background noises of twentieth-century life: “Newsreels” with blaring headlines; autobiographical “Camera Eye” sections with poetic stream-of-consciousness; “biographies” evoking emblematic historical figures like J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, John Reed, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thorstein Veblen, and the Unknown Soldier. Holding everything together is sheer storytelling power, tracing dozens of characters from the Spanish-American War to the onset of the Depression.

The U.S.A. trilogy is filled with American speech: labor radicals and advertising executives, sailors and stenographers, interior decorators and movie stars. Their crisscrossing destinies take in wars and revolutions, desperate love affairs and harrowing family crises, corrupt public triumphs and private catastrophes, in settings that include the trenches of World War I, insurgent Mexico, Hollywood studios in the silent era, Wall Street boardrooms, and the tumultuous streets of Boston just before the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.

The volume contains newly researched chronologies of Dos Passos’s life and of world events cited in U.S.A., notes, and an essay on textual selection.

LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.

From inside the book


street you have to step carefully always
Come on and hear
It takes nerve to live in this

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About the author (1996)

John Dos Passos (1896–1970) was born in Chicago and graduated from Harvard in 1916. His service as an ambulance driver in Europe at the end of World War I led him to write Three Soldiers in 1919, the first in a series of works that established him as one of the most prolific, inventive, and influential American writers of the twentieth century. Daniel Baruch Aaron was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 4, 1912. He received a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Michigan in 1933 and the first doctoral degree in American civilization from Harvard University. He taught English at Smith College for 30 years. During wartime shortages of manpower, he worked on a farm and as a volunteer police officer. In 1979, he co-founded the nonprofit Library of America. The company has published millions of copies of over 250 moderately priced novels, memoirs, narrative histories, forgotten masterpieces, and other classics. He wrote several books during his lifetime including Men of Good Hope: A Story of American Progressives, Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism, and The Unwritten War: American Writers and the Civil War. His memoirs include The Americanist and Commonplace Book, 1934-2012. He condensed the 155 volume journal of failed poet and scion of Southern wealth Arthur Crew Inman into The Inman Diary: A Public and Private Confession. In 2010, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal as a scholar and as the founding president of the Library of America. He died from complications of pneumonia on April 30, 2016 at the age of 103.

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