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A Great Disorder

National Myth and the Battle for America

Richard Slotkin

ISBN 9780674292383

Publication date: 03/05/2024

As culture wars pit us against each other, A Great Disorder looks to the myths that have shaped American identity and reveals how they have brought us to the brink of an existential crisis.

Red America and Blue America are so divided they could be two different countries, with wildly diverging views of why government exists and who counts as American. Their ideologies are grounded in different versions of American history, endorsing irreconcilable visions of patriotism and national identity.

A Great Disorder is a bold, urgent work that helps us make sense of today’s culture wars through a brilliant reconsideration of America’s foundational myths and their use in contemporary politics. Famous for his trilogy on the Myth of the Frontier, Richard Slotkin identifies five myths, born of different eras, that have shaped our conception of what it means to be American: the myths of the Frontier, the Founding, the Civil War (which he breaks into two opposing camps, Emancipation and the Lost Cause), and the Good War, embodied by the multiethnic platoon fighting for freedom. His argument is that while Trump and his MAGA followers have played up a frontier-inspired hostility to the federal government and rallied around Confederate symbols to champion a racially exclusive definition of American nationality, Blue America, taking its cue from the protest movements of the 1960s, envisions a limitlessly pluralistic country in which the federal government is the ultimate enforcer of rights and opportunities. American history—and the foundations of our democracy—have become a battleground. It is not clear at this time which vision will prevail.


  • Offers a consistently revelatory lens through which to understand the evolution of popular beliefs and the imaginative dynamics at work during watershed historical moments…A wonderfully clear, cogent account of the stakes involved in American mythology.

    —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


  • Richard Slotkin is the Olin Professor of English and American Studies, Emeritus, at Wesleyan University, best known for his award-winning trilogy on the Myth of the Frontier, two volumes of which, Regeneration Through Violence and Gunfighter Nation, were finalists for the National Book Award. Winner of the Shaara Award for Civil War fiction, he regularly contributes to media projects on gun violence, racism, the Civil War, and the West.

Book Details

  • 528 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press