Making America: The Society and Culture of the United States. Luther Luedtke, editor. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. 554 pp. $34.95 cloth. 16.95 paper.
Many of us in the Popular Culture/American Studies community eagerly order anthologies like this one because each new collection promises to make sense of our nation's complex--indeed, often contradictory--experience, Back in the late 1960s, I remember finding fellow graduate students in American Studies poring over Robert E. Spiller's bulky Literary History of the United States (Macmillan), hoping that the sketches of major movements and authors would trot them through comprehensive exams. Not long after I left graduate school, The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Literature (Daniel G. Hoffman, ed., 1979) came on the scene with helpful efforts to synthesize ethnic, modernist and post-modernist trends. A little over ten years later, Malcolm Bradbury edited a collection entitled Introduction to American Studies (Longman, 2nd edition, 1990), a text which attempted to identify intellectual paradigms decade-by-decade. Very recently, the Columbia UP has turned out two costly--but stimulating--volumes with the goal of synthesis; both The Columbia Literary History of the United States (Emory Elliott, ed., 1988) and The Columbia History of the American Novel (also Elliott, 1991) reevaluate our canon. Most recently, Richard Ruland and Malcolm Bradbury have produced From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature (Viking, 1991), a narrative which traces the evolving national self-image depicted in our literature. Throughout the last 20 years, Pat and Ray Browne's Popular Press at BGSU has served up such volumes as Challenges in American Culture (1970), Symbiosis: Popular Culture and Other Fields (1988) and Dominant Symbols in Popular Culture (1990). Ever hoping to discover the meaning of America, I purchase these vade mecums as soon as they are advertised in journals like this one--in fact, I was about to send off a check to North Carolina for Making America when a review copy arrived from Bowling Green.
In 1982, Luther Luedtke, a leading American Studies scholar at the University of Southern California, was given the daunting task of editing a book which would describe the United States to an international audience. With such a readership in mind, he assembled essays about our geography, history, social makeup and customs, literature, and intellectual culture. Each essay was bolstered by an annotated bibliography. The USIA distributed translations of the 1982 collection in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. As Making America, this 1992 version is available in the United States for the first time--amplified by four new essays to reflect very recent concerns.
Making America: The Society and Culture of the United States covers a lot of territory. The first section begins with a discussion of the country's physical geography, followed by essays exploring the impact of sheer space on the development of the American family (Lillian Schlissel), the breakdown of towns (Richard Lingeman) and the growth of urban centers (Carl Abbott). Raymond Gastil describes "the cultural regions of America." Anticipating the needs of an international audience, the authors in this section--and others--spell out details which would normally we left unstated in a U. …