Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped America

Course No. 2527
Professor Peter Conn, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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Course No. 2527
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Course Overview

When a work of fiction or nonfiction captures the attention—and wallets—of American readers, it speaks volumes about the nation's cultural climate.

Best-selling books have played a critical role in influencing the tastes and purchasing habits of American readers for more than 100 years. Weekly best-seller lists appear in various national newspapers. Nationwide reading clubs help propel books (and authors) into mass popularity. Strategic marketing campaigns help embed the importance of a particular work in the American public's consciousness.

But there is more to America's great best-selling books than the sales figures they rake in. American bestsellers also offer us ways to appreciate and understand particular periods of American culture.

The 24 lectures of Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped America give you a pointed look at key best-selling works and their places within the greater fabric of American cultural history. Guided by award-winning Professor Peter Conn of the University of Pennsylvania, you explore representative bestsellers at various stages of American history, from the first book published in the English-speaking New World to the blockbuster authors who dominate the 21st-century publishing industry.

The result is an expert look at the evolution of American culture—its tastes, its hopes, its dreams—through the unique lens of the books that have captivated its readers at various points in American history.

What Bestsellers Reveal about America

Throughout America's storied history, thousands of books have claimed the term "bestseller" in one form or another. The 22 works selected for Great American Bestsellers, however, were chosen for the wealth of information they provide about both the concept of American bestsellers and the larger scope of American culture.

Every work in this course, from literary masterpieces (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) to enduring self-help books (How to Win Friends and Influence People), has had a crucial and unique impact on American society. Studying these representative works gives you a deeper understanding of how American literature can both mirror the events of its time and interact with—and in many instances impact—them.

Professor Conn shows you how the works in this course have performed many functions in American culture:

  • Shedding light on our nation's political history: Thomas Paine's widely read Common Sense helped chart America's course for independence in the months leading up to the Declaration of Independence. Pamphlets like Paine's were the preferred method of political debate in colonial America; they were cheaper to produce than books and lasted longer than posters and newspapers.
  • Intervening on behalf of change: Published in 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin is virtually synonymous with efforts to end slavery in America. Harriet Beecher Stowe did not set out to write the "great American novel." Rather, she infused the work with her rage and despair at the ills of slavery. The immediate popularity of Uncle Tom's Cabin put a human face on slavery and swayed public opinion in favor of its abolition.
  • Offering keen looks at America's social climate: Sinclair Lewis was part of an unofficial group of 20th-century American writers who revolted against the idea of small-town America as an idealized environment. The popularity of Lewis's satirical Main Street—in which a woman finds herself trapped in a small Minnesotan community—reflects the eagerness of many Americans to deflate the myth of the small town as a utopia.
  • Instigating—and enduring—controversy: Native Son's brutal violence and frank look at American racial tension drew the ire of many readers and critics, including author James Baldwin, who thought the character of Bigger Thomas nothing more than a vehicle for propaganda. Despite the debates the novel created, Native Son is still considered an iconic work of 20th-century American literature.

Professor Conn also notes that, despite the level of their literary merit, most of these bestsellers are exceptionally entertaining to read.

His lectures unpack the plot, themes, and critical issues of a particular American bestseller. He takes care to inject each lecture with a pointed analysis that proves each work's importance within the larger fabric of American culture—and frequently draws insightful connections between bestsellers from different genres and time periods in American history.

Encounter Moments in American Literary History

As you travel chronologically through this rich sampling of American bestsellers, you encounter moments in American literary history that speak to the rise and prominence of specific genres. Bestsellers, because of the rich variety of American reading habits, can encompass works that fall into time-tested categories like romances, historical epics, memoirs, war novels, and more.

In Great American Bestsellers, you come to understand how many of our nation's best-selling works helped make these genres important parts of the nation's reading life. For example, you discover

  • how Owen Wister's The Virginian, with its evocative depiction of life in the American West, sparked the popularity of the Western—a wholly American literary genre;
  • how The Maltese Falcon brought to the forefront of the American readership the detective story, originated by Edgar Allan Poe in the 19th century; and
  • how the enormous success of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People reflects the important role of self-help literature in establishing and strengthening American values.

Professor Conn takes you inside works from the last few decades of American publishing, including Joseph Heller's Catch-22; Maxine Hong Kingston's experimental autobiography, The Woman Warrior; and David McCullough's John Adams. You also spend time exploring the latest stage in the evolution of American bestsellers, in which blockbuster authors work within well-established genres.

A Microcosm of American Cultural History

An established and respected author, lecturer, and literary consultant, Professor Conn is well versed in placing American literature within its larger social context. Among his many books are The Divided Mind: Ideology and Imagination in America; Literature in America; and Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography, which was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography.

Throughout the course, Professor Conn exhibits a thorough and detailed knowledge of the American literary scene that is nothing short of captivating. His placement of a variety of American greatest writers—including Pearl S. Buck, Edith Wharton, Horatio Alger Jr., and John Steinbeck—within their larger historical and cultural contexts gives you new ways to examine their lives, their writing styles, and their best-selling works.

Professor Conn continually stresses the way in which all of these bestsellers—even those that aren't magnificent works of literature—have performed a useful role in telling us much about our nation's history. "Popular literature offers at least a part of the answer to the perennial question of American identity," he notes. "All of it has much to teach us."

From The Last of the Mohicans, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Good Earth to The Jungle, Gone with the Wind, and the latest blockbuster by John Grisham, Great American Bestsellers is your opportunity to see our nation's best-selling books as more than just popular forms of entertainment that have managed to make their authors lots of money.

They are, in fact, stunning microcosms of American cultural history.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Do Bestsellers Matter?
    What makes a book a "bestseller"? In this introductory lecture, explore some of the critical issues involved in a study of American bestsellers—including the effect of literary traditions such as book clubs and best-seller lists, and the insights bestsellers can provide about our nation's cultural history. x
  • 2
    The Bay Psalm Book
    The English-speaking New World's first bestseller, The Bay Psalm Book, was owned by perhaps a third of the households in the small Massachusetts Bay colony. Investigate the work's attempt to provide a literal version of the Psalms and its relationship with Puritan attitudes toward literary expression. x
  • 3
    Common Sense
    This lecture focuses on Thomas Paine's revolutionary Common Sense and how its engaging style reached a mass audience that included both the elite and the common individual. Less than a year after the pamphlet's publication, it was reprinted in at least 25 new editions and sold more than 500,000 copies. x
  • 4
    The Last of the Mohicans
    See how James Fenimore Cooper, America's first best-selling novelist, crafted the formula for subsequent adventure stories and explored serious U.S. themes—including the relationship between settlers and nature and the conflict between whites and Indians—in 1826's The Last of the Mohicans. x
  • 5
    Uncle Tom's Cabin
    More than 150 years after its publication, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin continues to provoke debate and argument. Explore the role this antislavery narrative—which sold 300,000 copies in its first year of print—played in reshaping American attitudes toward slavery. x
  • 6
    Ragged Dick
    Professor Conn looks at Horatio Alger Jr.'s "rags to riches" tale, Ragged Dick,, and its reflection of American ideas of self-improvement. He shows how Alger's best-selling novel presents a moral world of upward mobility, where hard work and merit lead to success. x
  • 7
    Little Women
    The quintessential girls' book of the 19th century, Little Women, serves as a testament to the shared aspirations that can guide a loving family life. Explore how the characters and plot of Louisa May Alcott's novel reflect the larger role of women in post–Civil War America. x
  • 8
    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    Find out how Mark Twain's reputation as a cultural icon and the controversy surrounding the publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, made it one of the best-selling novels of its generation. Published in 1884, Huckleberry Finn, displayed the versatility of American speech and changed the course of American literature. x
  • 9
    The Virginian
    Owen Wister's The Virginian , was the best-selling novel of 1902. More important, it ushered in the genre of the Western at the moment when the American frontier had closed. Examine how Wister's novel both celebrates and mourns the people, places, and themes of the American West. x
  • 10
    The House of Mirth
    Investigate Edith Wharton's masterful novel The House of Mirth, and the critical questions it raises about social status and gender in early 20th-century American society. An immediate bestseller upon its publication, The House of Mirth, established Wharton as a pointed critic of American high society. x
  • 11
    The Jungle
    Dedicated to "the workingmen of America," Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, was an international sensation that led to groundbreaking reforms in the American meatpacking industry. Explore how this 1906 novel exemplifies both the power of investigative journalism and the ideas of the American Socialist movement in the early 20th century. x
  • 12
    Main Street
    Professor Conn shows how Sinclair Lewis's Main Street, satirizes small-town America as a place of moral and intellectual deficiencies. Considered the best-selling novel of the period between 1900 and 1925 by Publisher's Weekly, Main Street, is a piercing, unsentimental look at American domestic life. x
  • 13
    The Maltese Falcon
    Delve into the popularity of detective fiction among the American readership in this look at The Maltese Falcon,, Dashiell Hammett's best-known novel featuring the memorable detective Sam Spade. In addition, trace the origins and conventions of the mystery genre back to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. x
  • 14
    The Good Earth
    The Good Earth, was the first work of fiction to be a best-selling American novel for two consecutive years. Discover how Pearl S. Buck's tale of Chinese farmers and their families shattered Asian stereotypes, illustrated the role of women in male-dominated societies, and provided Americans with an influential portrait of China. x
  • 15
    Gone with the Wind
    Why did Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, —a novel she described as "a simple yarn of fairly simple people"—achieve such unprecedented popularity? Study how her epic novel provides a unique window into the American South during the Civil War and question the work's controversial treatment of African Americans. x
  • 16
    How to Win Friends and Influence People
    Published the same year as Gone with the Wind, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, is a best-selling piece of success literature that asserts personal appeal as the key to success. Place the book in its historical context and consider various reasons for its long-lasting popularity. x
  • 17
    The Grapes of Wrath
    Consider John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath as another example of a bestseller tightly linked with the social values of its time. The unforgettable chronicle of the Joad family as they suffer through the American Dust Bowl, The Grapes of Wrath was among the five best-selling novels of the 1930s. x
  • 18
    Native Son
    The first novel by an African American to be named a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club®, Native Son remains an important work of 20th-century American literature. Explore the origins of Richard Wright's classic novel—as well as its controversial moral attitude that challenges consensual views of choice and justice. x
  • 19
    The Catcher in the Rye
    See how J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, through the unique narrative voice of its teenage protagonist, embodies the tone and issues of 1950s American culture. This 1951 novel can be read in the same vein as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: as a manifesto against the American status quo. x
  • 20
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is another American bestseller that uses the voice of a child as the central character to present piercing views of American society. Investigate how Harper Lee's beloved novel reflects both the development of Southern literature and the maturation of the modern civil rights movement. x
  • 21
    Study Joseph Heller's influential war novel Catch-22 as a work that emphasizes the cheapness of human life in the face of mechanized destruction and absurd bureaucracy. Also, place this bestseller within the larger context of American war fiction. x
  • 22
    The Woman Warrior
    The first best-selling memoir by an Asian American, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior expanded the literary merit of the autobiography. In addition to looking at America's rich history of autobiographical writing, consider how The Woman Warrior's experimental style offered new avenues for this genre. x
  • 23
    John Adams
    Having sold more than three million copies by the end of 2007, John Adams is the best-selling biography in American literary history. Learn where David McCullough's work falls in the history of American biography and how it reignited interest in an often overlooked historical figure. x
  • 24
    Recent Bestsellers
    Focusing on John Grisham's legal thrillers, conclude the course with an examination of the dramatic transformations in the bestseller landscape over the last few decades. These transformations include the rise of brand-name authors like Danielle Steel and Stephen King and the ways that popular literature addresses new cultural concerns. x

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Your professor

Peter Conn

About Your Professor

Peter Conn, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Peter Conn holds the Vartan Gregorian Chair in English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has a secondary appointment in the Graduate School of Education. Since 1993, he has served as a visiting professor at the University of Nanjing. Professor Conn earned his Ph.D. from Yale University. Professor Conn is the author of numerous works on American literature and culture, including The American 1930s: A Literary...
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Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped America is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 61.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than just literature This excellent course is very difficult to classify. Besides giving an excellent introduction to American popular literature it also provides a very interesting social history of the USA. I really enjoyed both aspects of the course and would thoroughly recommend it.
Date published: 2012-02-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Popular literature and our American identity DVD review. While the DVDs are not necessary, I enjoyed the images and the quotes. Many customers will certainly be satisfied with audio. The more books on the list that you have read, the more this course will appeal to you. Incidentally, there’s a decent balance between related history of the period and the literature under discussion, so if you like history you might enjoy this one, too. This one started out a bit…um…measured but half way through really started offering some material worth serious analysis and reflection. The books are all well known but vary in quality according to critics. Also covers quite a few genres: classic novels, mysteries, westerns, religious/political, teen literature, memoir/biography, etc. For sheer variety, it’s admirable; from a historical perspective, it is also very strong. At first I found Professor Conn to be solid but unremarkable. Then during the lecture on Gone with the Wind, he blushed while narrating a spicy, Harlequinesque quote and then sort of came alive, delivering his next lectures with more personal investment; for example, in introducing Catch-22 we hear a anecdote about losing his passport. Towards the end of the lecture I could tell he just about started laughing, so he must have had fun. Also, he excels at reading quotations. All are brief and economical but very powerful. Furthermore, he also does a very competent job of weaving common threads together so you get a sense of continuity and cohesion. As to the books, they’re all bestsellers, so what’s not to like? Many are typical books you’d find on mandatory high school reading lists. That made it easy to connect with the much of the material, which in my case brought back memories. Most of us have probably read a lot of them. But here’s the rub: best sellers are not always high brow reading experiences. Quite a few have been disparaged by critics as being flawed in our postmodern sense (Part III of Native Son; Grapes of Wrath as anti-American; Huckleberry Finn being inflammatory; Gone with the Wind amounts to racial propaganda; The Good Earth is conventional; Uncle Tom’s Cabin comes across as overly sentimental ; Last of the Mohicans is now obsolete; etc.). Don’t know if I’ll watch the whole course again, but I do want to reread or read for the first time a few of the books. Those lectures I will definitely watch again. So, it’s a pretty solid course and will competently round out your knowledge of any of the books you have not gotten round to reading yet.
Date published: 2011-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Audio lectures are very well performed These lectures exceeded my expectations. The books were well chosen and given in a historical order that combines literature, history and politics. The value for the course was the professor talked about the social and political events that impacted or were caused by the book itself. The professor did not give book reports about each novel. Instead, he put the novel in the context of the times it was published in. He discusses other books that i'd never heard of that were also well written, but lost the contest of being remembered by most readers. The professor also speaks at a fast clip, which i prefer. He keeps the info flowing, and it's all interesting.
Date published: 2011-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course Prof. Conn is an interesting and entertaining teacher. His insights into the historical and social context of the books are enlightening and thoughtful; he explains how and why the books became best sellers and their initial and continuing impact on American culture. Each lecture made me look forward to the next.
Date published: 2011-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bestsellers, A great survey and investigation This course on best selling books covers over 300 years of best sellers in America. From the "Bay Psalm Book" published in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640 to David McCullough's 2001 "John Adams," Professor Conn surveys best selling books that span a surprisingly wide range of genre's. Professor Conn summarizes the works in an engaging manner, and also introduces background material on American society relevant to the time period in addition to other contemporary works and personalities. The result is satisfying in that I felt I understood the main messages of the work and I also felt that I had some insights into the environment that lead to the works success. Some bestsellers have proved to have enduring popularity, for example "Little Women," but all works seem to have been selected because they have mostly had enduring impact as well as temporal popularity. I appreciated learning about some works that I had not previously know, and being reminded of works that I was familiar with and getting additional insight into the meaning of the work and some possible reasons for their popularity. I recommend this course as being well worth the twelve hours of time invested.
Date published: 2011-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course!! When it comes to the TTC literature courses this is one of the best! If you want a course that touches on several books and teaches what is to be learned from them, leave Fears behind! This course was great. The professor is very clear and has a slight sense of humor that is a lot of fun. This (along with Vandiver's courses) is one of my all time favorites!!
Date published: 2010-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid Professor Conn's presentation moves along smoothly, integrating social historical context with major book themes and plots. The material is solid and relevant, easy to follow though not dumbed down. His style is fluent and to the point. Overall an interesting and useful summary of key periods and books in American history.
Date published: 2010-04-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from On the plus side, the course introduces you to some interesting books. But the lectures were too preachy for my taste.
Date published: 2010-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from For all booklovers For anyone with a passing interest in American bestsellers would be well served by this course. I listened to the audio version, which was enough to satisfy me. He puts each book into a historical context, which you can't get by just reading the book. You can use the course to decide which ones to tackle, although he does such a good job you might feel as if you have already read it. He sticks with the bestsellers, but I wish he had included the Great Gatsby. He even brings the course up to modern bestsellers such as Grisham and Crichton.
Date published: 2009-11-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good books, shallow culture The underlying idea of this course--that you can learn a good deal about American history and culture by studying the most popular books of each era--is an interesting one. But Prof. Conn's ideas about American history and culture are thoroughly conventional (and conventionally politically correct), and at the end of the day rather shallow. Prof. Conn is at his best when he's close to his principal subject--when he's talking about individual books and about the publishing industry. It's when he feels the need to pontificate about larger themes that the course gets tiresome. I was glad to learn something about the books and the contexts in which they were written, but found many of Prof. Conn's cultural interpretations rather tedious. Prof. Conn has an over-the-top speaking style. There is no trace of humor or spontaneity in his delivery. He does not speak so much as orate, and much of the time he is in an oratorical register more common to preachers than to college teachers. I frequently found myself expecting an imminent end to the lecture as Prof. Conn took on a tone that I associate with sermons that are coming an end. Used sparingly, this is a powerful rhetorical device. But Prof. Conn does not use it sparingly--many of even the most mundane points are delivered in a tone that aspires more to apotheosis than to explication. Notwithstanding its pretensions, the course is worth hearing. You'll learn about some good books and some interesting books, and it will be a shame if you aren't inspired to read a few of them. But a course with twice as many books and half as much cultural commentary would be better.
Date published: 2009-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from AMERICA'S REFLECTION IN BOOKS Every lecture is gold. Professor Conn presents a crisp panorama of what was going on in America before and during the time this book emerged. You can see what historical, social and economic forces influenced each author and what influence each book had upon our country. Professor Conn speaks fluently and factually and authoritatively, rarely relying on notes. We are spellbound by each lecture and would order any other course this magnificent teacher creates for TTC. If you love reading books, if you appreciate the difference between literary fiction and popular fiction, if you are fascinated by the stories behind each book, this course is for you. We adore it.
Date published: 2009-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course The instructor presents a very broad view of the many pieces of American Literature through the ages. I agree with the other reviewers that his selections do sometimes seem a little odd - with that said - this is a very enjoyable, understandable, and thought-provoking course. His lectures on Thomas Paine and Upton Sinclair's Jungle are simply outstanding. This is one that you definitely want to get. Very informative and beneficial in adding depth of understanding for the reader and historian alike.
Date published: 2009-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Insights I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audio download of this course. Prof. Conn's expertise was self evident. While there were books discussed here that I had read, there were also many I had not. I learned a great deal from Prof. Conn's erudite synopsis of the sundry plots. Most impressive was Prof. Conn's ability to place the novels in their respective social, cultural and political contexts at the time of publication. The linkages he made were very insightful.
Date published: 2009-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Slight change of pace: the "best-sellers" A very interesting concept: a course on best-sellers. What are some of the books the captured the imagination of the American population, and why? Some of these books are still favorites today; others have sunk somewhat into obscurity. It is, naturally, only a survey course: there are so many bestsellers Professor Conn could have chosen, but he limited it by necessity to only a couple dozen. But his choices are generally good ones; he presents you with an overview of the book, similar books of the times, and discussions of how they were received by the critics and the public. Anyone getting this course will probably feel a little disappointment that some of their own favorite bestsellers from American history are not represented... but that's unavoidable, given the length of the course. Professor Conn is an excellent speaker, although at times he comes off as slightly pedantic -- he doesn't seem to evoke the excitement and enthusiasm of some of the other Teaching Company lecturers. But that's a very high standard, and don't let it turn you away from the course: Conn's delivery is still excellent. NOTE: This review refers to an audio-only version of the course.
Date published: 2009-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Sellers Sure To Be A Best Seller Outstanding course, excellent professor. I found this course to be enjoyable from beginning to end, and from beginning to end, Professor Conn connects the main points and various book selections in a seamless narrative. Using his closing points in each lecture to transition to the new topic, Prof. Conn demonstrates his mastery of the material and high level teaching skill. He is very deliberate and competent in establishing the context for each work as he provides a build up before analyzing the respective book. His comparisons with other works in the respective genres is equally impressive. Best Sellers is sure to be a best seller at TeachCo. and I hope he is recruited to do more courses.
Date published: 2009-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from BRILLIANT We really enjoyed this series. Professor Conn's style is perfect for describing these books, the authors, and and their characters Please bring us more series by Professor Conn on books. How about a similar series on British best sellers?
Date published: 2009-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ugly duckling course Well, this course starts out ugly. Dr. Conn is not particularly impressive on first glance. He reminds me of a west coast sensitivity counselor, with whom I had some mandated face time. This revelation will not particularly surprise those who know me, or have read my other reviews. The material selected for the course was also a cause for alarm: THE BAY PSALM BOOK, LITTLE WOMEN, THE WOMAN WARRIOR. Hardly page turners. Where were VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, EVERTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT--- BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK? But like the story of the UGLY DUCKING; First impressions can be wrong. Dr. Conn is an excellent speaker: good voice and total command of the subject material. He also has a great sense of dry humor and irony. Often delivering unspoken punch lines with arched eyebrows or rolling eyes. The strength of the course is not so much the books themselves; as it is his analysis of American's political, and social scene at the time of the work. He further develops the impact of the writings, and gives an excellent review of collateral literature as well. Some tidbits: A. He makes the argument that the popularity of detective stories (see MALTESE FALCON) are related to a decreased sense of security in urban society. B. He uses CATCH-22 to discuss American war novels back to THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE. C, He praises GONE WITH THE WIND as "a great achievement". Of course there is the obligatory chastisement of it"s "racism'. C. The strongest section may be:THE BAY PSALM BOOK. Dr, Conn give a very erudite review of puritanism and it's effects on our culture. All together this is strong work, that I would recommend to all. Indeed it does become a swan.
Date published: 2009-06-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A First For Me As a lover of literature and The Teaching Company in particular this course disappointed me.It is a first for me as I have well over 200 courses and have felt all of them were excellent.My disappointment stems from several issues.One the course,24 lectures is way too short.For instance Prof Weinstein 's Classics in American Literature is 84 lectures.Secondly,stemming from this short course many "bestsellers" were not included.How one could leave Hemingway,Fitzgerald, Hawthorne,Melville out to name a few puzzles me. I don't consider John Grisham to be a great author.Of the more modern authors I would think Phillip Roth's Portnoy''s Complaint and other works would be more germane.Cormac Mc Carthy and his trilogy plus his No Country For Old Men have far more impact than the modern works in this series. Having said all of that the professor is articulate,concise and presents the material in a timely matter. It is not the professor that I am disappointed in but the content.I dont think this course adds much if anything to Weinsteins 3 literature courses dealing with American Literature ie Classics in Am Lit,20th Century American Fiction and Understanding Life&Literature... though the latter also deals with european authors. I would hope that TTC would redo this course ,expanding it to at least 48 lectures and including more modern authors and more works by African-American authors.
Date published: 2009-05-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fast-paced, entertaining, but ... Professor Conn has a remarkably good speaking voice. The course moved along quickly, and seemed well-organized. Dr. Conn emphasizes gender, race, and ethnicity issues. He finds bigots and stereotypes in nearly every bestseller he discusses. Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind contains ‘racial propaganda,’ but is redeemed because Scarlet is a feminist. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath became THE novel of the Great Depression, but that’s probably because (as one critic said) Steinbeck was a man and not a woman. I personally believe that the values revealed in history’s bestsellers were the values of the ‘mind of the time,’ and that criticizing these works through modern, politically correct lenses can cause mischief. America is still trying to become the City on the Hill, a beacon, and we’re working hard on our imperfections. Dr. Conn seems to sneer at young America’s ‘quasi-religious reverence’ for the Founding Fathers, but a young country -- the mind of the time -- needed this reverence to stay together and evolve. We needed our national myths, and still do. I felt the conclusion of the lectures could have been more creative and stimulating. Instead, the course ends with a dissection of some of John Grisham’s novels. Grisham ain’t no Mark Twain, but he sells millions of books.
Date published: 2009-05-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty good The more I listened, the more I enjoyed this course. What I liked best was that the lecturer, in addition to discussing plot and impact of the book, used each "best seller" to explore a theme or genre in US literature. For example, Maltese Falcon was used to discuss mystery/crime related literature. Other genres explored, keynoted by one book, included biography, "The Southern Novel", politically themed works, African-American works, Coming-of-Age novels, etc. This gave the series a much wider application than I expected, and made it quite worthwhile. At first I was a bit put off by Conn's vocal delivery and subtle self-promotion but this went to the background as the content itself held my attention. I do recommend it.
Date published: 2009-05-03
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