These two novels make American history breathe

My top picks from the 1915 bestseller list are each windows into America’s transformation from the horsepower age to the motor age: The Turmoil by Booth Tarkington and The Harbor by Earnest Poole.

Tarkington and Poole were each Pulitzer Prize winners, though they didn’t win for their 1915 novels.

The two novels have several common threads. Each focuses on the boy who tries to pick his own way in the world despite a dominant, even domineering,  father.

In each novel, the son never approaches his father’s stature, either for good or ill. The father in The Turmoil is a scoundrel; the father in The Harbor is an honest man, but rigid.

In each book, the setting acts almost as a character, influencing how the humans behave. The Turmoil is set in a mid-size American City obsessed with growing bigger, wealthier, more powerful. The Harbor‘s setting is the New York City Harbor in which new ideas wash up with the tides.

Reading these two novels as a set would provide a fairly good introduction to American economic history from the Civil War to the First World War.

 

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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