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Publisher's Summary

Popular culture is a central part of everyday life to many Americans. Personalities such as Elvis Presley, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jordan are more recognizable to many people than are most elected officials. With Amusement for All is the first comprehensive history of two centuries of mass entertainment in the United States, covering everything from the penny press to Playboy, the NBA to NASCAR, big band to hip hop, and other topics including film, comics, television, sports, dance, and music. Paying careful attention to matters of race, gender, class, technology, economics, and politics, LeRoy Ashby emphasizes the complex ways in which popular culture simultaneously reflects and transforms American culture, revealing that the world of entertainment constantly evolves as it tries to meet the demands of a diverse audience.

Trends in popular entertainment often reveal the tensions between competing ideologies, appetites, and values in American society. For example, in the late 19th century, Americans embraced "self-made men" such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie; the celebrities of the day were circus tycoons P.T. Barnum and James A. Bailey, Wild West star "Buffalo Bill" Cody, professional baseball organizer Albert Spalding, and prizefighter John L. Sullivan. At the same time, however, several female performers challenged traditional notions of weak, frail Victorian women. Adah Isaacs Menken astonished crowds by wearing tights that made her appear nude while performing dangerous stunts on horseback, and the shows of the voluptuous burlesque group British Blondes often centered on provocative images of female sexual power and dominance.

Ashby describes how history and politics frequently influence mainstream entertainment. When Native Americans, blacks, and other non-whites appeared in the 19th-century circuses and Wild West shows, it was often to perpetuate demeaning racial stereotypes - crowds jeered Sitting Bull at Cody's shows. By the early 20th century, however, black minstrel acts reveled in racial tensions, reinforcing stereotypes while at the same time satirizing them and mocking racist attitudes before a predominantly white audience. Decades later, Red Foxx and Richard Pryor's profane comedy routines changed American entertainment. The raw ethnic material of Pryor's short-lived television show led to a series of African-American sitcoms in the 1980s that presented common American experiences - from family life to college life - with black casts.

Mainstream entertainment has often co-opted and sanitized fringe amusements in an ongoing process of redefining the cultural center and its boundaries. Social control and respectability vied with the bold, erotic, sensational, and surprising, as entrepreneurs sought to manipulate the vagaries of the market, control shifting public appetites, and capitalize on campaigns to protect public morals. Rock 'n Roll was one such fringe culture; in the 1950s, Elvis blurred gender norms with his androgynous style and challenged conventions of public decency with his sexually-charged performances. By the end of the 1960s, Bob Dylan introduced the social consciousness of folk music into the rock scene, and The Beatles embraced hippie counter-culture. Don McLean's 1971 anthem "American Pie" served as an epitaph for rock's political core, which had been replaced by the spectacle of hard rock acts such as Kiss and Alice Cooper. While Rock 'n Roll did not lose its ability to shock, in less than three decades it became part of the established order that it had originally sought to challenge.

With Amusement for All provides the context to what Americans have done for fun since 1830, showing the reciprocal nature of the relationships between social, political, economic, and cultural forces and the way in which the entertainment world has reflected, refracted, or reinforced the values those forces represent in America.

The book is published by University Press of Kentucky.

©2012 The University Press of Kentucky (P)2013 Redwood Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"A masterpiece. The book is a tour de force in its field and has made popular culture, once thought to be a frivolous area for academic study, a serious field of inquiry." (USA Today)
"No single author has tackled popular culture with so much breadth and depth and managed to strike a balance between the popular and scholarly approaches. Ashby's absorbing and hugely informative study will appeal to a wide audience. Highly recommended." (Library Journal)
"A survey of impressive breadth on two centuries of American amusements." (Journal of American History)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Paul
  • Watertown, ma, United States
  • 11-28-13

So Much Fun!

An amazing overview! Well put together with great narration that kept me listening even after I was done driving. I love books like this that give you history in a context that you may not consider.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Aaron
  • BALTIMORE, MD, United States
  • 08-07-13

Excellent

Would you consider the audio edition of With Amusement for All to be better than the print version?

Best to have both

What did you like best about this story?

Transportive strangeness of "old weird America"

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

His voice and performance are just fine

If you could give With Amusement for All a new subtitle, what would it be?

....

Any additional comments?

....

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Sarah
  • West Grove, PA, United States
  • 05-09-17

Interesting Info, Poor Narration

There was a lot of interesting info about the history of amusement in America and the related sociological implications. Sports, theater, film, Television, and video games, etc. were covered. Unfortunately, the narrator was unsatisfactory. Aside from the annoying mispronunciations and outright errors, he was stiff and unconvincing, not seeming to get the material he was reading. The overall quality of the narration was so disappointing that it basically ruined the book for me.

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It's a thourough and well-reswarched history

Ultimately, however, it can be quite dry. I would recommend it for people interested in a dense and comprehensive history chiefly of media forms. It covers the larger popular culture from circuses and tin pan alley to MTV and Hollywood. It weaves in social and political themes effortlessly, as well. though I enjoyed the listen, it would've taken me much more effort and time to have read the print copy on my shelf.

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  • LH
  • 08-07-14

The file is too large

Any additional comments?

The book is fine, the file is too large to deal with on my mp3. Have not tried to listen on my computer or other device, but I listen to audio books in the car not at home.<br/>Please break this book up into 4-5 sections. <br/>

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Lots of country music, news and comic book info.

It's not a bad book. I'll admit that I skipped a lot of the 1800's. But the early 1900's were interesting. However it really got botched around the 80's and 90's. First of all, they seemed really wedged in at the end. The author didn't seem to really get those eras. MTV was barely mentioned, nor was the influx of teen movies, music or TV shows. Most of the things talked about for the 80's were for the older generations. He spends a great deal of time talking about talk shows, and radio. And a ton on country music. And comics. Lots of talk about comics.

Oddly enough, he mentions horror in the 90's but not the 80's where they had a huge resurgence. He calls Silence of the Lambs a "slasher" movie. Shows like Seinfeld, 90210 and Friends were not even mentioned. Instead, he talked about who owned with news station. Which, IMO, isn't really pop culture.

The narration wasn't bad. There were a few times sentences were repeated, and a few mispronounced words.


Probably better suited for listeners at least in their 50's.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Slow

Couldn't get into this book. I skipped to eras that I know (50's to 90's) and was surprised by how much they missed or ignored. it made me think that perhaps I'm not hearing the whole story on the eras I wasn't familiar with. if I'm going to listen to a book of this length I want the whole story. I would not recommend this.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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..Lacks Character.

Is there anything you would change about this book?

The book is read like an infomercial. That could be changed, but I am not offering to do that.

Would you ever listen to anything by LeRoy Ashby again?

?

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Shallow salesmen ship tonalities.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

Maybe, depends on the director. I had hoped for decent content, but it was unreadable/'unlistenable'.

Any additional comments?

...as a disclaimer I did not listen to the entire book.

0 of 5 people found this review helpful