What does it take to be a good American? And who gets to decide? Journalist Jess McHugh examines thirteen seemingly innocuous, mega-bestselling reference books, guidebooks, and self-help books that have become blueprints for core American values and shaped our national story.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book: These are a few examples of American “bibles.” They are reference books for daily life that ostensibly taught readers one subject, all while instructing them about their role in society and their responsibilities to family and to country. These are dictionaries, school primers, cookbooks, and how-to guides, spanning the full range of our 245-year history, which sold tens of millions of copies and set out specific archetypes for the ideal American, from the self-made entrepreneur to the devoted homemaker to the humble farmer.
Taken together, these books help us understand how a powerful minority successfully constructed meaning for the majority in times of change or upheaval. Americanon looks at how these ubiquitous texts have molded common language, culture, and customs—attempting to impose a single definition of American on a diverse nation.
Deeply researched and gorgeously told, Americanon is a brilliant and curious history of American mythmaking. Jess McHugh brings alive a cast of core American figures—Benjamin Franklin, Dale Carnegie, Emily Post, and more—to demystify the origins of the great American fable.