The Industrial Age 1865 To 1917

In 1800 the United States was an underdeveloped nation of just over 5 million people. It was a society shaped by immigration, but immigrants from one country, Great Britain, made up around half the population. Although some pioneers had moved west of the Appalachian Mountains, America was preeminently a seacoast settlement. A prosperous nation, it still lagged far behind England, which was industrializing furiously. And with only 10 percent of its people living in towns and cities, it was thoroughly agrarian. Read more »

10 Great American Business Novels

A student of an underappreciated literary genre selects some books that may change the way you see what you do.

It has always struck me that the best business novels are interactive. In them, the world of commerce is driven by people whose reality is made palpable to us but whose values, attitudes, and biases often compel us to question our own: As a businessperson, how would I relate to the kind of complex, unpredictable circumstances in which all-too-real fictional characters commonly find themselves?Read more »

The White City

THE 1893 WORLD’S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION WAS SO WONDERFUL THAT EVERYBODY HOPED IT WAS A PROPHECY OF WHAT THE TWENTIETH CENTURY HELD IN STORE. BUT IN FACT, THE CITY THAT MOUNTED IT WAS.

“The world’s greatest achievement of the departing century was pulled off in Chicago,” said George Ade, one of the city’s first important writers. “The Columbian Exposition was the most stupendous, interesting and significant show ever spread out for the public.” The fair drew an estimated twenty-seven million people, making it the greatest tourist attraction in American history. And it was a cultural phenomenon of profound importance.Read more »

The Titan

Theodore Dreiser’s stark realism brought the American novel into the twentieth century. He paid a heavy price for his candor.

Theodore Dreiser dominated the American literary landscape in the first quarter of the twentieth century. To his contemporaries he seemed to have risen sui generis , like a newly formed volcano, and as Norman Mailer said, “Dreiser came closer to understanding the social machine than any other American writer who ever lived.” But he was more than a chronicler of social forces; he was a self-conscious artist, a literary pioneer, a bridge between the Victorian and the modern sensibility. His friend and critical champion H.Read more »

Faking It

If the facts were dull, the story didn’t get printed. So reporters made up the facts. It’s only recently that newspapers have even tried to tell the truth .

In the winter of 1894-95, Theodore Dreiser was a new reporter on the New York World , and things were going badly. One assignment after another fizzled. Dispatched by the city editor to Elizabeth, New Jersey, to follow up a tale of a graveyard apparition, the gangling twenty-three-year-old returned empty-handed: the cemetery caretaker insisted that the dead man supposedly involved was not even buried there.Read more »

Main Street

With the publication of his acid-etched but enormously popular portrait of the American small town, Sinclair Lewis emerged as the spokesman for a new literary generation

On July 17, 1920, Sinclair Lewis delivered the finished manuscript of Main Street to Alfred Harcourt in the hope that it would sell 10,000 copies. Harcourt was enthusiastic. He thought that it was great; he thought that it would probably sell as many as 20,000 copies before it stopped, and his sales manager believed that they could probably expect a sale of 25,000. In the first six months of 1921 it sold 180,000. It was finally to go into millions. Read more »