E Pluribus Unum On John Dos Passos’s U.S.A.

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John Dos Passos’s trilogy U.S.A. — comprising The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936) — stands today like an unvisited historical monument in the annals of American literature, a Grant’s Tomb of the bookshelf. Despite its acceptance as a classic, and its being ranked twenty-third on the Modern Library list of the 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century, it seems to be little read today. Yet when we open it again at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first, Dos Passos’s innovative, panoramic documentary of America’s emergence from its nineteenth-century cocoon onto the world stage during and after World War I is as timely a piece of fiction as one could imagine encountering in the echo chamber of our contemporary political discourse.
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