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The Real American Dream

The Real American Dream

A Meditation on Hope

Andrew Delbanco

ISBN 9780674003835

Publication date: 09/01/2000

Since we discovered that, in Tocqueville’s words, “the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy the heart,” how have we Americans made do? In The Real American Dream one of the nation’s premier literary scholars searches out the symbols and stories by which Americans have reached for something beyond worldly desire. A spiritual history ranging from the first English settlements to the present day, the book is also a lively, deeply learned meditation on hope.

Andrew Delbanco tells of the stringent God of Protestant Christianity, who exerted immense force over the language, institutions, and customs of the culture for nearly 200 years. He describes the falling away of this God and the rise of the idea of a sacred nation-state. And, finally, he speaks of our own moment, when symbols of nationalism are in decline, leaving us with nothing to satisfy the longing for transcendence once sustained by God and nation.

From the Christian story that expressed the earliest Puritan yearnings to New Age spirituality, apocalyptic environmentalism, and the multicultural search for ancestral roots that divert our own, The Real American Dream evokes the tidal rhythm of American history. It shows how Americans have organized their days and ordered their lives—and ultimately created a culture—to make sense of the pain, desire, pleasure, and fear that are the stuff of human experience. In a time of cultural crisis, when the old stories seem to be faltering, this book offers a lesson in the painstaking remaking of the American dream.


  • In a tour de force of thoughtful intellectual and cultural history, the author reflects broadly on the history of the American dream. Moving deftly from the Puritans to contemporary America, Delbanco laments the loss of a common culture in our modern commercialized New Age. As a ‘meditation on hope’ he follows Emerson, who wrote: ‘let us do what we can to rekindle the smouldering nigh quenched fire on the altar.’

    —Virginia Quarterly Review


  • Andrew Delbanco is the Mendelson Family Chair of American Studies and Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.

Book Details

  • 160 pages
  • 5-1/8 x 7-1/2 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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