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Publisher's Summary

Best-selling books have played a critical role in influencing the tastes and purchasing habits of American readers for more than 100 years. 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.

In this series of 24 lectures you'll enjoy a pointed look at key best-selling works and their places within the greater fabric of American cultural history. Guided by an award-winning teacher, you'll 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.

Each of the 22 works discussed - 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 will give you a deeper understanding of how American literature can both mirror the events of its time and, in many instances, have a pronounced impact on them. These lectures are 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, but as stunning microcosms of American cultural history.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2009 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2009 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Looking for the great in great

I thoroughly enjoy the Great Courses series, but found myself a bit disappointed in this one. I was looking for a deeper analysis of what made these books great. Most of the information was information I already knew. There were no great revelations. The professor also spent much time summarising the books, which gave away the book for anyone who would want to read the book if he or she had not done so already. Great creates great expectations, (excuse the pun) and I didn't come away with that great feeling.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Informative and entertaining

I enjoyed these lectures immensely. He tells you a bit about the author, the social conditions when the book came out, and the plot. The books I knew, I learned more about, the ones that I didn't made me want to read them. I wish that this professor had more courses out there. His style was easy and not hard to follow.
I do hate the teaching companies compulsion for canned music and clapping, it's more than a little silly. Rather undignified for this genre.

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • ricketsj
  • St. Paul, MN United States
  • 05-25-15

Engaging, focused on context of the book.

I really enjoyed this, particularly as the lectures focused on the context in which a book was published, which informed why it may have been a bestseller. He also discussed the plots of the books enough that if you had not read it (one went back to the days of the Puritans) you could still understand how it fit in its period of history.

It's final lecture on 'mega-authors' (I don't think that's the word he actually used, but it's how I think of them) was a little depressing. It's an important comment on how the business of publishing impacts what will be presented to readers, but it's also something that people need to be cognizant of if they want to understand why some of the great novels of the past may not even have been published today. The lecturer does this without sniping at the actual writing of the mega-authors, which I think is important.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating but specific

My critique is more of myself--my expectations were for a soaring overview of American literature--instead this was exactly what was described: a discussion of the books that were best sellers and why and what that reflects about American culture--and in that respect it succeeded admirably.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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BESTSELLER

Professor Peter Conn prefaces his lectures on “Great American Bestsellers” by noting a bestseller’ label is not necessarily a measure of good or great writing but of popular consumption. Historically, bestseller has meant high purchase volume for a book; usually, higher than expected. In the modern age, a bestseller label is often degraded by publishers; i.e. it is used as a marketing ploy rather than a measure of sales volume.

However, by more accurate measure of popular consumption, Conn argues bestsellers shape American culture, either by reinforcing or changing the direction of cultural norms. The books Conn identifies are American bestsellers because they fulfill two criteria. One, the books Conn selects and reviews are widely purchased. Two, Conn’s bestseller’ selections arguably reflect or shape American’ belief.

Though guardedly praising bestseller’ literature, Conn argues that each American author in his lectures provides a window into American culture. Conn suggests there is no surprise that today’s most prolific bestseller’ author is an attorney, an attorney in the most litigious country in the world. Conn’s final lecture notes today’s most prolific bestseller’ authors are–number one John Grisham, two Stephen King, and three Danielle Steele.

In 24 lectures, Conn surveys many of yesterdays’ bestsellers; some of which have outlived their relevance but many that continue to speak “…volumes about the nation’s cultural climate” (a partial quotation from the publicist of the series). Conn’s lectures provide insight and motivation to visit or re-visit books that reflect on America’s past and offer hope for America’s future.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Very Interesting and Enjoyable!

I am very impressed on how these lectures were put together. Not only did Professor Conn give a detailed summary of each book, he gave us SO much more. I found myself going from one lecture to the next with eager anticipation. I don't necessarily want to read all the books talked about in these lectures; however, Professor Conn has piqued my interest in several of them. This was a very enjoyable series.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Much More Than I Expected

Bought on a whim. A better guide through American history than most American History text books. This series of lectures on page turners flys by much quicker than the running time.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

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💯

I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this production. The professor’s tone and pacing was extremely well-modulated and delivered. The quality of the information was superb, as well. This course is for those who want a good broad overview of landmark pieces of popular literature accompanied by historical background. In addition to a synopsis of each bestseller, the professor shares information about other authors and works of the period that set the stage and laid the foundation for the highlighted bestseller. I majored in English and I still learned a lot. I’m also looking forward to reading the books I haven’t read yet. Highly recommended. Everything I could’ve asked for and more.

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ok

Overall I found this course simply ok. I was glad to have listened to it, but it wasn't spectacular. The professor does a great job in what he aims to do, but it wasn't quite what I thought I was going to be getting. It's fantastic if you're looking for something that details text in a specific time, but I was kind of hoping to have more of a detailed book review type course and this wasn't it.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Best one yet

Love to hear the backstory of some of the books that I've loved and would like to read. Love to see how history has formed books and has books have formed history.