“If you scratch an American you will find, somewhere beneath the surface, a person shaped by technology, a person who is living in a mainly technological society. … In dealing with technology’s history, we are dealing with an American characteristic.” So says Thomas P. Hughes, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who is among the most respected and most eloquent of the growing band of historians that is focusing on the role of technological change in human affairs. In a lively interview, Hughes reveals what he has learned in the course of exploring an aspect of our past whose importance is only lately being fully realized.
Everyone knew that Sinclair Lewis earned his reputation and his living by telling Americans that smalltown life was stifling. But that’s only part of it—and a small part at that. In an absorbing essay, Alfred Kazin recalls seeing a raging and frightened Lewis in the twilight of his talent in the 1930s dominating a cocktail party with bitter sarcasm. With that melancholy image in mind, Kazin assesses Lewis’s great and neglected strength: his perfect ear for every nuance of an America that was disappearing even as he recorded it. Kazin explains what makes Lewis worth reading today and names a surprising literary successor to Lewis.
As recently as the last century, the guilt or innocence of a suspected murderer could be determined legally by what happened to the corpse when the accused touched it. Lawrence B. Custer examines the history of this supreme jurisprudential oddity from colonial times to its dilatory extinction.
In 1929 a grocery store manager named Mike Cullen wrote an impassioned challenge to the head of the company, outlining his plan for a new way to sell food: “Think of it—a man selling 300 items at cost and another 200 items at 5% above cost—no-body in the world ever did this before. Nobody ever flew the Atlantic either, until Lindbergh did it. …” In a little more than a generation, Cullen’s marketing scheme had transformed not only the way we buy our groceries but also the way we manage our lives. Our story tells how that change came about (and along the way pays due tribute to the inventor of that indispensable amenity, the shopping cart.)
a gallery of superb Western photographs from a century ago …William E. Leuchtenburg’s assessment of Huey Long’s spectacular career … a portfolio of John White Alexander’s sensuous portraits … a memoir of a young Marine’s first experience of combat, crossing bayonets with Japanese veterans on Guadalcanal… one of the strangest houses in America … and, though one can scarcely credit it, more.