Americanon cover

“Americanon: An Unexpected U.S. History Through Early Bestsellers”

with Jess McHugh

Tuesday, September 28, 2021, at 7:00 PM ET

Approx. 60 minutes

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This online event is free, but registration is required.
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What better way to understand a people than to look at the books they consumed most, the ones they returned to repeatedly, with questions about everything from spelling to social mobility to sex? In this conversation, Jess McHugh will discuss her new book, Americanon, which explores the true history of thirteen of the nation’s most popular books. Overlooked for centuries, our simple dictionaries, spellers, almanacs, and how-to manuals are the unexamined touchstones for American cultures and customs. Including early favorites such as Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Old Farmer’s Almanac, and Webster’s Dictionary, and continuing through the twentieth century, Americanon looks at how these ubiquitous books have updated and reemphasized potent American ideals—about meritocracy, patriotism, or individualism—at crucial moments in history. Taken together, these books help us understand how their authors, most of them part of a powerful minority, informed the values and habits of millions of Americans, woven into our cultural DNA over generations of reading and dog-earing.

Headshot of Jess McHughJess McHugh is a writer and researcher who has reported from North and South America, Europe, the Caribbean, and West Africa covering culture, politics, history, and identity. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Nation, the Paris Review Daily, and TIME, among many others. She lives in Paris.

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