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Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped America

Get a unique literary perspective on our nation in this course that covers best-selling American books from colonial times to today.
Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped America is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 67.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from informative - well worth it very good presentation; provided interesting & relevant background info. enjoyable & educational. 1 criticism - disagree with #16 How to Win Friends ... - do not believe that book gets even close to meriting such recognition.
Date published: 2023-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An enjoyable and worthwhile review I very much enjoyed this review of many wonderful works of literature, including both those I have and those I have not read. Professor Conn is excellent, and provides a range of perspectives on the works. There is no overriding theme, but for those looking for an excellent survey English lit course, this has my highest recommendation.
Date published: 2023-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good breadth of literature Works I’ve read, works I wish I’d read, all coved in manner expanding my appreciation of the literature. Instructor gains attention and keeps it. Excellent course.
Date published: 2022-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great purchase! I bought this DVD recently and am very glad I did. I’m reading books I never read, and some I never heard of prior to making this purchase. The instructor is engaging, enthusiastic and interesting.
Date published: 2022-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a wonderful trip through American literature The path is walked from America's first published writings continuing to modern times. Authors you have loved over the years and some you may have overlooked to your own peril in academia, but they are all here and well worth your time today
Date published: 2022-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful blend of history and literature I'm really enjoying this course since it puts all of the novels in historical perspective. The professor is excellent!
Date published: 2022-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent information The professor was excellent. I enjoyed the history and time periods discussed during each selection. Great chronology.
Date published: 2020-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great American Best Sellers This course was a great overview of several best selling books and the history and culture behind them. Professor Conn is interesting and thorough in his discussions. I have read some of the best sellers discussed in this course prior to purchasing this course and was looking for a refresher on the content of those books since it has been decades since reading them, I was provided with more...a desire to explore and learn more about some of these best sellers and to go back and read "The Jungle" again. Professor Conn's insightfulness keeps me on my path of staying a life long learner.
Date published: 2020-07-02
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Overview

There's much more to our nation's best-selling books than the enormous sales figures they rake in. They also provide us with unique ways to appreciate and understand American culture. Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped America is a pointed 24-lecture tour of key best-selling works in the history of U.S. literature and what they reveal about the cultural climate of our nation at particular points in its history. Guided by award-winning Professor Peter Conn, you read between the lines of bestsellers including Common Sense, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath, and How to Win Friends and Influence People, as well as recent works by the authors who dominate the modern publishing industry.

About

Peter Conn

By looking carefully at these texts, many of them still popular, we can gain valuable insights into our national history and culture. We will also have occasion to speculate on American values and the changing nature of American society.

INSTITUTION

University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Peter Conn holds the Vartan Gregorian Chair in English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has a secondary appointment in the Graduate School of Education. Since 1993, he has served as a visiting professor at the University of Nanjing. Professor Conn earned his Ph.D. from Yale University. Professor Conn is the author of numerous works on American literature and culture, including The American 1930s: A Literary History; Literature in America; and Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has lent his expertise as a literary consultant on numerous television projects, including the Emmy Award winning series The American Short Story. In 2004, he served as principal literary advisor to Oprah's Book Club for The Good Earth. A John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, Professor Conn has directed National Endowment for the Humanities seminars for college and high-school teachers and was the recipient of an NEH Humanities Focus grant. Throughout his career, he has won numerous teaching awards, including the University of Pennsylvania's prestigious senior teaching prize, the Lindback Award.

Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped America

Trailer

Why Do Bestsellers Matter?

01: Why Do Bestsellers Matter?

What makes a book a "bestseller?" In this introductory lecture, explore some of the critical issues involved in a study of American bestsellers - including the effect of literary traditions such as book clubs and best-seller lists, and the insights bestsellers can provide about our nation's cultural history.

31 min

02: "The Bay Psalm Book"

The English-speaking New World's first bestseller, "The Bay Psalm Book," was owned by perhaps a third of the households in the small Massachusetts Bay colony. Investigate the work's attempt to provide a literal version of the Psalms and its relationship with Puritan attitudes toward literary expression.

32 min

03: "Common Sense"

This lecture focuses on Thomas Paine's revolutionary "Common Sense" and how its engaging style reached a mass audience that included both the elite and the common individual. Less than a year after the pamphlet's publication, it was reprinted in at least 25 new editions and sold more than 500,000 copies.

30 min

04: "The Last of the Mohicans"

See how James Fenimore Cooper, America's first best-selling novelist, crafted the formula for subsequent adventure stories and explored serious U.S. themes including the relationship between settlers and nature and the conflict between whites and Indians in 1826's "The Last of the Mohicans."

31 min

05: "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

More than 150 years after its publication, Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" continues to provoke debate and argument. Explore the role this antislavery narrative which sold 300,000 copies in its first year of print in reshaping American attitudes toward slavery.

32 min

06: "Ragged Dick"

Professor Conn looks at Horatio Alger Jr.'s "rags to riches" tale, "Ragged Dick," and its reflection of American ideas of self-improvement. He shows how Alger's best-selling novel presents a moral world of upward mobility, where hard work and merit lead to success.

30 min

07: "Little Women"

The quintessential girls' book of the 19th century, " Little Women," serves as a testament to the shared aspirations that can guide a loving family life. Explore how the characters and plot of Louisa May Alcott's novel reflect the larger role of women in post Civil War America.

30 min

08: "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"

Find out how Mark Twain's reputation as a cultural icon and the controversy surrounding the publication of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," made it one of the best-selling novels of its generation. Published in 1884, "Huckleberry Finn" displayed the versatility of American speech and changed the course of American literature.

30 min

09: "The Virginian"

Owen Wister's "The Virginian," was the best-selling novel of 1902. More important, it ushered in the genre of the Western at the moment when the American frontier had closed. Examine how Wister's novel both celebrates and mourns the people, places, and themes of the American West.

30 min

10: "The House of Mirth"

Investigate Edith Wharton's masterful novel "The House of Mirth," and the critical questions it raises about social status and gender in early 20th-century American society. An immediate bestseller upon its publication, "The House of Mirth," established Wharton as a pointed critic of American high society.

31 min

11: "The Jungle"

Dedicated to "the workingmen of America," Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" was an international sensation that led to groundbreaking reforms in the American meatpacking industry. Explore how this 1906 novel exemplifies both the power of investigative journalism and the ideas of the American Socialist movement in the early 20th century.

31 min

12: "Main Street"

Professor Conn shows how Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street," satirizes small-town America as a place of moral and intellectual deficiencies. Considered the best-selling novel of the period between 1900 and 1925 by "Publisher's Weekly, Main Street," is a piercing, unsentimental look at American domestic life.

31 min

13: "The Maltese Falcon"

Delve into the popularity of detective fiction among the American readership in this look at "The Maltese Falcon," Dashiell Hammett's best-known novel featuring the memorable detective Sam Spade. In addition, trace the origins and conventions of the mystery genre back to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

31 min

14: "The Good Earth"

"The Good Earth," was the first work of fiction to be a best-selling American novel for two consecutive years. Discover how Pearl S. Buck's tale of Chinese farmers and their families shattered Asian stereotypes, illustrated the role of women in male-dominated societies, and provided Americans with an influential portrait of China.

32 min

15: "Gone with the Wind"

Why did Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind," (a novel she described as "a simple yarn of fairly simple people") achieve such unprecedented popularity? Study how her epic novel provides a unique window into the American South during the Civil War and question the work's controversial treatment of African Americans.

30 min

16: "How to Win Friends and Influence People"

Published the same year as "Gone with the Wind," Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is a best-selling piece of success literature that asserts personal appeal as the key to success. Place the book in its historical context and consider various reasons for its long-lasting popularity.

31 min

17: "The Grapes of Wrath"

Consider John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" as another example of a bestseller tightly linked with the social values of its time. The unforgettable chronicle of the Joad family as they suffer through the American Dust Bowl, "The Grapes of Wrath" was among the five best-selling novels of the 1930s.

31 min

18: "Native Son"

The first novel by an African American to be named a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club®, "Native Son" remains an important work of 20th-century American literature. Explore the origins of Richard Wright's classic novel as well as its controversial moral attitude that challenges consensual views of choice and justice.

31 min

19: "The Catcher in the Rye"

See how J. D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," through the unique narrative voice of its teenage protagonist, embodies the tone and issues of 1950s American culture. This 1951 novel can be read in the same vein as "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" as a manifesto against the American status quo.

30 min

20: "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" is another American bestseller that uses the voice of a child as the central character to present piercing views of American society. Investigate how Harper Lee's beloved novel reflects both the development of Southern literature and the maturation of the modern civil rights movement.

31 min

21: "Catch-22"

Study Joseph Heller's influential war novel "Catch-22" as a work that emphasizes the cheapness of human life in the face of mechanized destruction and absurd bureaucracy. Also, place this bestseller within the larger context of American war fiction.

31 min

22: "The Woman Warrior"

The first best-selling memoir by an Asian American, Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Woman Warrior" expanded the literary merit of the autobiography. In addition to looking at America's rich history of autobiographical writing, consider how "The Woman Warrior's" experimental style offered new avenues for this genre.

30 min

23: "John Adams"

Having sold more than three million copies by the end of 2007, "John Adams" is the best-selling biography in American literary history. Learn where David McCullough's work falls in the history of American biography and how it reignited interest in an often overlooked historical figure.

32 min
Recent Bestsellers

24: Recent Bestsellers

Focusing on John Grisham's legal thrillers, conclude the course with an examination of the dramatic transformations in the bestseller landscape over the last few decades. These transformations include the rise of brand-name authors like Danielle Steel and Stephen King and the ways that popular literature addresses new cultural concerns.

32 min

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