Many would assume that the most influential books in American History would be the Bible or the classical works that made the reading list for the Founding Fathers, like Vergil, Horace, Tacitus, , Thucydides, and Plato. But in reality, a canon of 13 simple best-selling self-help books from the Old Farmer’s almanac to Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are what may have established archetypes for the ideal American, from the self-made entrepreneur to the humble farmer.
Today’s guest is Journalist Jess McHugh. She explores the history of thirteen of America’s most popular books, chronologically tracing their origins in her book AMERICANON: An Unexpected U.S. History in Thirteen Bestselling Books.
From educational texts like Webster’s Speller and Dictionary and The McGuffey Readers; to domestic guides such as Emily Post’s Etiquette and The Betty Crocker Cookbook; to motivational and self-help classics like How to Win Friends and Influence People and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—these texts, many of which have sold tens of millions of copies, are the books that have, often subconsciously, come to define what it means to be American. They continue to shape generation after generation, reinforcing which ideals we should fight to uphold and encouraging a uniquely American brand of nationalism that is all-too-often weaponized to shut down new ideas that could change our nation for the better.
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