The American Dream. or Is It a Nightmare?; BOOK REVIEWS

Article excerpt

LOVE it or hate it, America is the most powerful country on earth and what they do in Detroit or Des Moines has an effect on us all.

But it isn't just the almighty dollar that dominates the modern world. The United States also has the greatest propaganda machine of all time - Hollywood.

For close on a century the movies have been beaming an image into the minds of billions of people that is not so much reality as an idea of America.

This is the land of the pioneers of the Wild West and wide open spaces where a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

It is as gritty as John Wayne, as seductive as Marilyn Monroe and as homely as James Stewart with his "aw shucks" decency.

It's the America of conspicuous consumption where the middle classes have three cars in the drive outside their dream homes and the poor rarely get a look in. A country where even the outlaws and gangsters have a certain lyrical romanticism.

Above all, it is an America that is the land of the free and the rich, rich, rich!

No wonder millions of people around the world, enticed by Coca Cola, the Big Mac and Disneyland think of it as the promised land.

But exactly who are the real Americans and how does their self-image match up to reality?

Paul Johnson pithily reassesses the heroes and villains, the myths and the mighty achievements in A History of the American People (Weidenfeld & Nicolson pounds 25).

The only real Americans were the Indians who were rapidly driven to the brink of extinction and left clinging to the margins of their own land.

Modern America began with the Spanish, French and, of course, the Elizabethan English who brought back the potato and tobacco and dreams of a New World where anything was possible. …