History Professor's Book List Reminds Us It's a Jungle out There

By Hyman, Ann | The Florida Times Union, September 6, 1999 | Go to article overview

History Professor's Book List Reminds Us It's a Jungle out There


Hyman, Ann, The Florida Times Union


Several months ago, the Times-Union asked readers which books were most influential in the 20th century.

James B. Crooks, a history professor at the University of North Florida, took the assignment seriously. Crooks began thinking about his list of representative books while swimming laps.

He reports he had a heckuva time narrowing his choices.

Finally, he assembled three lists: one of fiction, one of history and one of contemporary non-fiction. All have had a major impact on American society. As a bonus, he threw in a list of Jacksonville books.

Here are Crooks' lists.

FICTION:

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, a classic of the 20th century for its exposure of the meat packing industry of Chicago. "It led to passage of the first Pure Food and Drug Act, and I believe was a best-seller."

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis, creates the businessman stereotype of the 1920s so well that the term Babbitt has carried the connotation of a "go-getter, anti-intellectual, self-satisfied, back-slapping businessman ever since."

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, the novel of the Great Depression.

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, a close choice over Richard Wright's Black Boy. "Both are powerful novels about African-Americans, but the former covers a broader canvas of Southern rural and Northern urban existence, and a longer time period in the 20th century."

U.S.A., the trilogy by John Dos Passos, . . . "when I read it in college some 40 years ago in an American lit class, it was my favorite for its nitty-gritty portrayal of urban America between the first and second world wars.

CONTEMPORARY NON-FICTION:

The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan, ranks with "the most important books of the century because it literally began the post World War II women's liberation movement."

The Sea Around Us, by Rachel Carson, did the same for the environmental movement. "Its publication awoke middle class Americans to environmental concerns in the 1970s and beyond."

The Other America, by Michael Harrington, depicting poverty in the affluent America of the 1950s, a catalyst to Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

The Kerner Commission Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder and An American Dilemma, by Gunnar Myrdal. …

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