The 42nd Parallel: The U.S.A. Trilogy, Volume 1

The 42nd Parallel: The U.S.A. Trilogy, Volume 1


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With his U.S.A. trilogy, comprising THE 42nd PARALLEL, 1919, and THE BIG MONEY, John Dos Passos is said by many to have written the great American novel. While Fitzgerald and Hemingway were cultivating what Edmund Wilson once called their "own little corners," John Dos Passos was taking on the world. Counted as one of the best novels of the twentieth century by the Modern Library and by some of the finest writers working today, U.S.A. is a grand, kaleidoscopic portrait of a nation, buzzing with history and life on every page.

The trilogy opens with THE 42nd PARALLEL, where we find a young country at the dawn of the twentieth century. Slowly, in stories artfully spliced together, the lives and fortunes of five characters unfold. Mac, Janey, Eleanor, Ward, and Charley are caught on the storm track of this parallel and blown New Yorkward. As their lives cross and double back again, the likes of Eugene Debs, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie make cameo appearances.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618056811
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/25/2000
Series: U.S.A. Trilogy Series , #1
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 152,942
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

John Dos Passos (1896-1970), a member of the Lost Generation, was the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction, including THREE SOLDIERS and MANHATTAN TRANSFER.

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The 42nd Parallel: The U.S.A. Trilogy, Volume 1 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
pajaro More than 1 year ago
How Dos Passos ever fell into obscurity is a mystery, but whatever the reason, the public's amnesia seems to be set - and unfair. 'The 42nd parallel' and the trilogy it belongs to are comparable to the best from the era, and deserve a better fate than consignment to a literary footnote. Dos Passos' collage style is original and inspiring - a modern synthesis of technique that combined traditional narrative; snatches of popular culture; miniature, slanted biographies; and stream-of-conscious personal memories of the author. However, if all there were to Dos Passos was innovative writing, then his anonymity might be understandable, if not justifiable - but his perceptive commentary on the American identity sets the author's work apart as a landmark. Though there are few who could verify it, Dos Passos creates an air of authenticity about the era of which he writes that his work almost demands attention from both the amateur and serious historian as a reference for larger events. In fact, he catapults the first quarter of the 20th century out of dusty textbooks and infuses it, through fiction, with the muscular energy that non-fiction often lacks. Yet the authority of his style - direct and unvarnished, and without assigning literary motive to his character's actions - comes across as plainspoken as if reading a journal of one of our own ancestors. What a refreshing change from the contrived manipulations of a standard novel. There is no plot to 'The 42nd Parallel'. Instead, Dos Passos gives us five characters who are captives of their time and place, and whose daily concerns are a mixture of current events and the familiar foibles of humanity. Beginning in the last days of the 19th century, he follows these selected few up until America's deployment of the A.E.F. to France in 1917. With other historical fictions, I would expect these character's lives to intersect in meaningful, portentous ways - but Dos Passos' aim isn't to provide values or illustrate consequences to the audience through the vehicle of his writing. Instead, he is a chronicler of the common man's experience in America at the turn of the century. As time eclipsed Dos Passos, so too did future events overshadow the period of history he wrote about, but much of the groundwork for the volatility and carnage later on was laid in the first decades of the century. One of the most beguiling aspects of the novel was reading about these opening salvos in the coming struggles - but from the ground's eye view, so to speak, of the everyman, who couldn't know about the storms on the horizon because Dos Passos didn't know about them, thereby eliminating artificially prescient motives, or moralizing in hindsight. In the hands of an artisan such as Dos Passos, it is a relief and a revelation to read about his people - they come by their ham-fisted mistakes honestly. Carl Sandburg once referred to Chicago as "husky, brawling, the city of the big shoulders." As I read 'The 42nd Parallel', that phrase kept returning to my mind - except Dos Passos projected it across a nation, and it reminds me of hard work, and industry. It was a time of titanic production and change, but instead of presenting it as a mythic golden age, Dos Passos gives it to us in all its dirty honesty, and makes me realize how the roiling tide of the past pounded our present into shape. Forgotten or not, that's great literature to me.
aethercowboy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What can I say about the 42nd parallel that hasn't already been said? I guess not much, so here's what everybody else has already said:It's part of the USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos. It, and the rest of the trilogy, has four different parts braided throughout the narrative, involving fictional narratives describing life in America through the point of view of several characters, actual newspaper clipping and quotes relevant to the popular culture, biographies of public figures, as well as a semi-autobiographical flow of text.This is one of those books that can't easily be explained, and as such, you should just read to "get."I would most definitely recommend this book for fans of Faulkner, Pynchon, or Joyce. It is definitely a great 20th century American novel, and part of a greater series that gives one a sense of life in the U.S.A.
emily_morine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not many things make me feel patriotic about the United States. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am about as far from flag-waving as a person can be; not only do I deplore current policies and past atrocities in this country, but I usually don't feel very connected to the huge entity that is "The United States." I feel very connected to Portland, and even Oregon, since I have lived here my whole life and feel I am a product, for better or worse, of this culture. Even the whole West Coast can sometimes conjure up feelings of fondness or belonging in me. But the entirety of this huge, unwieldly nation? Not a chance. There are so many distinct subcultures here with which I have never even had any contact: I have never been to the Deep South, or Appalachia, or the Midwest, or Texas. Even if I had been to one or the other, I would be as much of a tourist there as if I were visiting a totally different country. And yet, John Dos Passos' USA trilogy somehow accesses a deeply - but DEEPLY - buried patriotism in me, and I think for a moment that it's kind of appealing to imagine myself part of a long national narrative, even if most of said narrative is something I wish I could rewrite from beginning to end.It's almost as if USA is specifically structured to get under my skin, making use of the modernist experimentalism I'm such a sucker for in other works, and using it to express a uniquely American perspective. Dos Passos's trilogy features many different types of narratives: third-person stories about regular American men and women, told in a succinct, newspaper-influenced voice; long, prose-like poems about the larger-than-life Americans of the time, from Rockefeller and Eugene Debs in the early years to Isadora Duncan and Henry Ford in the later; snippets of newspaper headlines and popular songs cobbled together into looser, "newsreel" poems; and the Camera Eye sections, told in a stream-of-consciousness style, from Dos Passos's own perspective. Together this variety of the large and small, journalistic objectivity and intensely subjective snapshots, regular people and giants of art and industry, lets me relate to America-as-vast-experiential-panorama, in a way I usually can't. And the way that the ridiculousness of newspaper headlines and semi-articulateness of a poignant song lyric interact with the complicated and compromised lives of real people rings true almost a century later.USA also offers a leftist slice of history in a way that's very personal: witnessing a brutal anti-labor attack in rural Washington state in the 1910's, or the ins and outs of a strike in Goldfield, Nevada in 1905, really makes the history of those familiar places come alive for me, and become part of the larger patterns of pro- and anti-labor movements happening all over the country. (Unfortunately, the activists who undermine themselves through in-fighting and excessive drinking are eerily familiar as well.) There is a Kerouac-like love of the small towns and big cities of America, but Dos Passos writes about people who are actually invested in them one way or another, rather than people who are just passing through - an approach I find much more emotionally rewarding. For me personally, writing about the wide spectrum of American experience using a wide spectrum of (American) voices is very powerful, and I've never really seen it done as effectively as Dos Passos does it here. If there are any other lovers of experimental prose out there trying to connect with their American roots (or not), I highly recommend USA.
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JD_in_TN More than 1 year ago
To understand America in 2014, one must understand what it was 100 years ago. That was when the momentous decisions were made--on war, on labor, on women's rights, on civil rights--decisions that defined the country in which we live today. Now understand this: America had a chronicler at work in John Dos Passos who captured what was &quot;really&quot; going on in the country, layers below the Carnegies, the Roosevelts and others in whom history puts its trust. In creating <i>The 42nd Parallel</i> , Dos Passos uses myriad conventions to capture the U.S.A. of the age: &quot;newsreels&quot; that put the reader in the spirit of the age through an abstract collage of headlines and story excerpts, &quot;the camera eye&quot; which uses song lyrics and longer excerpts (they reminded me of the front sections of People Magazine today), a series of biographical sketches of significant men of the age, and a cleverly aligned series of character sketches. Individually, the scenes would have been illustrative, good writing. Combined, however, they create a five-star classic which is a must-read for Americans interested in this crucial era in their nation's culture and history.
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