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The Cultural History of the Great American Novel

Bob Batchelor

In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald produced his third novel, a slim work for which he had high expectations. Despite such hopes, the novel received mixed reviews and lackluster sales. Over the decades, however, the reputation of The Great Gatsby has grown and millions of copies have been sold. One of the bestselling novels of all time, it is also considered one of the most significant achievements in twentieth-century fiction. But what makes Gatsby great? Why do we still care about this book more than eighty-five years after it was published? And how does Gatsby help us make sense of our own lives and times?

Gatsby: The Cultural History of the Great American Novel, Bob Batchelor explores the birth, life, and enduring influence of The Great Gatsby—from the book’s publication in 1925 through today’s headlines filled with celebrity intrigue, corporate greed, and a roller-coaster economy. A cultural historian, Batchelor explains why and how the novel has become part of the fiber of the American ethos and an important tool in helping readers to better comprehend their lives and the broader world around them.

A “biography” of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, this book examines
The Great Gatsby’s evolution from a nearly-forgotten 1920s time capsule to a revered cultural touchstone. Batchelor explores how this embodiment of the American Dream has become an iconic part of our national folklore, how the central themes and ideas emerging from the book—from the fulfillment of the American Dream to the role of wealth in society—resonate with contemporary readers who struggle with similar uncertainties today. By exploring the timeless elements of reinvention, romanticism, and relentless pursuit of the unattainable, Batchelor confirms the novel’s status as “The Great American Novel” and, more importantly, explains to students, scholars, and fans alike what makes Gatsby so great.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 316Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
978-0-8108-9195-1 • Hardback • November 2013 • $45.00 • (£29.95)
978-1-4422-4907-3 • Paperback • March 2015 • $25.00 • (£15.95)
978-0-8108-9196-8 • eBook • November 2013 • $44.99 • (£29.95)
Bob Batchelor is James Pedas Endowed Chair in Communication and executive director of the James Pedas Communication Center at Thiel College. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including: The 1900s; The 1980s; The 2000s; and American Pop: Popular Culture Decade by Decade (4 volumes), Cult Pop Culture (3 volumes) and John Updike: A Critical Biography (2013). He is founding editor of the Popular Culture Studies Journal and editor of the Contemporary American Literature series published by Rowman & Littlefield.

I. Gatsby Lives
1. Why Gatsby Matters

II. The Faustian Bargain: Creating The Great Gatsby
2. A Literary Star Roaring through the Twenties
3. Breaking Bad: Fitzgerald’s Demise, 1925-1940

III. Gatsby in the American Century
4. Gatsby Reborn, 1941-1963
5. A Grand Illusion, 1964-1980
6. All That Glitters, 1981-2000
7. Gatsby Today, 2001-present

IV. Gatsby and the Shifting America Dream
8. The American Dream
9. Wealth and Power
10. Celebrity…An Obsession

V. The Enduring Legacy of the Great American Novel
11. Is Romance Timeless?
12. A Hope for Reading and the Quest for the Great American Novel
13. Boom, Bust, Repeat: Power, Greed, and Recklessness in Contemporary America
14. The Great Gatsby (2013): The Film

Conclusion: Gatsby is America
Few are bold enough to use the term "great American novel" anymore. Fewer still are those who can make a compelling case for its application. . . .Batchelor claims this status for The Great Gatsby, and his arguments are captivating, readable, and convincing. His embrace of didactic purpose for literature is daring. . . .Putting the genie of postmodernism back in the bottle is impossible--even if one wanted to--but a return to appreciation of the worth of "deep" reading in the development of critical thinking skills would have salutary results in the general reading population as well as the critical realm. To that end, Batchelor asserts early on that Fitzgerald's "inherent ambiguity enables readers to use the novel as a barometer for measuring their own lives and the culture they inhabit." He demonstrates how Gatsby accomplishes this feat by carrying enough intellectual freight to defy categorization and to remain relevant to American society. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; general readers.

Batchelor seeks to capitalize on the success of Baz Luhrmann's recent Gatsby film adaption with this exploration of the ways in which F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby has been employed in American culture. The book works best when it sticks to examining concrete uses of the book throughout the years. For example, it features a brief but intriguing discussion of how David Lynch included a passage from the novel in a late 1980s television ad for Calvin Klein. Batchelor does a good job of neatly summarizing the details surrounding the novel's composition and initial reception.
Library Journal

The Great Gatsby’s enduring legacy can be attributed, at least in part, to the shared experience Americans have with the book. However, the work’s staying power in the national consciousness is due to far more than mere exposure. Beyond being included on many high school syllabi and reading lists, Batchelor argues that its enduring popularity is also due to its accessibility to readers and its inherent ambiguity [that] enables readers to use the novel as a barometer for measuring their own lives and the culture they inhabit. These seemingly conflicting characteristics create the foundation for Gatsby: The Cultural History of the Great American Novel as it sets out to chronicle not just the book’s reception through the decades but also its connections to some of its main concepts such as the meaning of the American dream. Most significantly, Batchelor seeks to explain and validate The Great Gatsby’s continued significance in many facets of American, and even international culture. . . .Gatsby achieves these aims while also balancing the sometimes incompatible demands of being enlightening for scholars and being approachable for a broad audience. . . .[I]t is obvious that Batchelor not only has great affection for his subject but also a wealth of knowledge of the text, its history, and its use over the years. The sense of warmth and the depth and breadth of knowledge regarding the novel and American culture provide Gatsby: The Cultural History of the Great American Novel with its readability. . . . .Gatsby: The Cultural History of the Great American Novel is an important and worthwhile resource for those well-versed in The Great Gatsby as well as for those who want to know more about the book and its impact on American culture.
The Journal of Popular Culture

In what seems to be the first in the Contemporary American Literature series, Bob Batchelor, James Pedas Professor of Communication and executive director of the James Pedas Communication Center at Thiel College, author or editor of more than 20 books, founding editor of the Popular Culture Studies Journal, and editor of the Contemporary American Literature series, gives a narrative history of the critical and cultural fortunes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the novel The Great Gatsby from its publication in 1925 until 2013, when a new movie version starring Leonardo DiCaprio was released. The author includes extensive notes, a bibliography, and an index. . . .Batchelor covers the ground well, pointing up the similarities between the 1920s and the 2010s in America—the culture of fame, the gap between rich and poor, and the conspicuous consumption of the rich. . . .There have been numerous book-length studies about the novel, including those by Fitzgerald experts such as Matthew J. Bruccoli, but this is the most up-to-date source on its reputation and relevance for our times. This work . . . could be assigned to the reserve rooms or reserve shelves in high school or college libraries where The Great Gatsby is taught.
American Reference Books Annual