A revelatory new take on the long-held belief that America has dominated world culture
America's global cultural impact is largely seen as one-sided, with critics claiming that it has undermined other countries' languages and traditions. But contrary to popular belief, the cultural relationship between the United States and the world has been reciprocal, says Richard Pells. The United States not only plays a large role in shaping international entertainment and tastes, it is also a consumer of foreign intellectual and artistic influences.
Pells reveals how the American artists, novelists, composers, jazz musicians, and filmmakers who were part of the Modernist movement were greatly influenced by outside ideas and techniques. People across the globe found familiarities in American entertainment, resulting in a universal culture that has dominated the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and fulfilled the aim of the Modernist movement—to make the modern world seem more intelligible.
Modernist America brilliantly explains why George Gershwin's music, Cole Porter's lyrics, Jackson Pollock's paintings, Bob Fosse's choreography, Marlon Brando's acting, and Orson Welles's storytelling were so influential, and why these and other artists and entertainers simultaneously represent both an American and a modern global culture.
Richard Pells is professor of history emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin. He lives in Austin, TX.
“[T]here is much to enjoy here . . . a rousing jaunt through a period of remarkable upheavals in entertainment and the arts.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Debates over high and low art, and the avant-garde vs. popular culture, rage throughout this absorbing volume.”—Publishers Weekly
"Richard Pells's book leaps, lunges, gallops, and, once in a while, pirouettes its way toward something very close toa unified field theory of twentieth-century American culture."—Gene Seymour, Bookforum
"Pells writes with grace and accessibility about big ideas, and he’s a master of synthesizing disparate materials and figures, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Miles Davis to Robert Altman. This is among the most lively multidisciplinary arts studies I’ve ever read, especially in its focus on cross-pollination between the U.S. and other parts of the world." –Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News Arts Blog
“Pells serves as an engagingly interesting and learned guide . . . Pells’ reading of American art, music, and movies is at its freshest and is most destabilizing of the easy generalities that we wrap around the products of American culture.” —Daniel T. Rodgers, Reviews in American History
~Daniel T. Rodgers
“[Pells’] book crackles with intellectual energy and showcases a formidable body of knowledge that leaps across all kinds of barriers. . . . Pells tackles big ideas in prose clear and accessible enough to make you forget you’re reading an academic text. He can talk John Wayne and Igor Stravinsky. You could say he’s a pretty modern guy.” —Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News
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