History Department
History Department

Retired Professor Richard Pells has forthcoming book

Thu, February 24, 2011
Retired Professor Richard Pells has forthcoming book
Prof. Richard Pells with detail from his new book cover "Modernist America"

Steven Watson's book review published in Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2011

America’s global cultural impact is largely seen as one-sided, with critics claiming that it has undermined other countries' languages and traditions. Pells’ book, Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies, and the Globalization of American Culture (Yale University Press, March 2011) masterly illustrates that the United States has been a recipient of other cultures just as much as it has been emulated.

There are individual chapters on art, film, music, and architecture — touching upon styles from jazz and art deco to abstract expressionism and film noir while placing their development into historical context.

He takes a fresh look at the negative presumption that the American cultural stamp in these areas has overshadowed that of other traditions.

Pells underscores the ways in which artistic visionaries ranging from George Gershwin to Jackson Pollock drew serious inspiration from a vast wealth of other cultural sources in order to explore and create new artistic horizons.

Therefore, the U.S. not only plays a large role in shaping international entertainment and tastes, it is also a consumer of foreign intellectual and artistic influences he says.

Modernist America reveals how these cultural icons were part of the Modernist movement and were greatly influenced by outside ideas and techniques. People across the globe found familiarities in American entertainment, resulting in a universal culture that has dominated the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and fulfilled the aim of the Modernist movement — to make the modern world seem more intelligible.

Prof. Richard Pells' new book "Modernist America"Modernist America explains why George Gerswhin's music, Cole Porter's lyrics, Jackson Pollock's paintings, Bob Fosse's choreography, Marlon Brando's acting, and Orson Welles's storytelling were so influential, and why these and other artists and entertainers simultaneously represent both an American and a modern global culture.

The book is already generating rave reviews. Gene Seymour of Bookforum writes, "Richard Pells's book leaps, lunges, gallops, and, once in a while, pirouettes its way toward something very close to a unified field theory of twentieth-century American culture."

Carol J. Binkowski of Bloomberg, N.J. and a reviewer for Library Journal, writes, “An education in American modernism, this is also well-researched, thought-provoking, and uplifting analytical commentary on its cultural sources and universal influence. It will engage both scholars and lay readers and is essential reading for those interested in the myriad factors that have shaped contemporary modern culture.”

Copies of the book will be available at the Yale University Press booth at the Organization of American Historians convention in Houston, March 17-20.  

Pells will be holding a book-signing party at his residence on Friday evening, April 29, organized by Book People of Austin.

Pells is also the author of Not Like Us: How Europeans Have Loved, Hated, and Transformed American Culture Since World War II (New York: Basic Books/HarperCollins, 1997). It was awarded the Best Scholarly Book by the Popular Culture Association.

He is the author of The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age: American Intellectuals in the 1940s and 1950s and Radical Visions and American Dreams: Culture and Social Thought in the Depression Years.

He is a retired professor from The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of History where he taught from 1971 until 2010.

Related Links:
Professor Richard Pells
Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies, and the Globalization of American Culture (Yale University Press, March 2011)
Steven Watson's book review published in Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2011

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