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Sinclair Lewis and American Democracy

Steven J. Michels

Sinclair Lewis was one of the most astute observers of American social and political life. Sinclair Lewis and American Democracy is a highly readable analysis of his novels. The book examines each of Lewis’s novels on key themes in the history of political thought and democracy including freedom and purpose, success and materialism, and nationalism and race. Lewis is revealed to be an unapologetic individualist and a fierce humanitarian. « less more »
Lexington Books
Pages: 200Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4985-1914-4 • Hardback • October 2016 • $80.00 • (£52.95)
978-1-4985-1915-1 • eBook • October 2016 • $76.00 • (£49.95)
Steven Michels is professor of political science in the Department of Government, Politics, and Global Studies at Sacred Heart University.
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Michels (political science, Sacred Heart Univ.) makes the case that Lewis and his work deserve greater attention than the author's "minor" status has heretofore afforded him. One of the primary strengths of Michels's argument is his attention to the serious political ideology that marked Lewis's novels. Lewis interrogated such institutions as the family, the economic system, and religion in addition to beliefs having to do with feminism and nationalism/racism—all matters that demand much more than superficial platitudes. Lewis's in-depth commentary on a broad range of subjects gives his work an authority that many readers have ignored. For instance, Lewis's portrayal, in The God Seekers, of the motives and psychological origins of religious zealotry comes uncomfortably close to present-day realities surrounding religious beliefs. The eponymous protagonist of Elmer Gantry reflects the vagaries of the contemporary "prosperity gospel" and the moral lapses of high-profile televangelists. Michels revisits the relevance of Lewis's thinking with appreciation and in detail, thus performing a necessary service: giving a novelist of ideas his proper due. Sinclair Lewis and American Democracy can be read profitably from both a literary and a societal standpoint, so it has a place in the literature of political science as well as literary studies.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.

Sinclair Lewis and American Democracy is a fascinating new approach to Sinclair Lewis’s novels. Michels intelligently discusses all of Lewis’s novels, from the well-known like Main Street and Arrowsmith to the lesser known like The God-Seeker and Work of Art, through the lens of political philosophy, showing how seriously Lewis thought about democracy in his fiction. Lewis would like his characters to be better and more engaged citizens of the republic, but is aware of how hard it is to do well and make life meaningful. This book is a valuable addition to Sinclair Lewis studies and sure to become one of the standard texts for Lewis scholars.
Sally Parry, Sinclair Lewis Society

A refreshing and overdue study debunking (among other things) the canard that Sinclair Lewis’s satires of American life had no values undergirding them. A solid analysis of the democratic and political values that guided his critical realism.
Richard Lingeman, author of “Rebel From Main Street”