In Search of America

Perspectives on History, Literature, Art, Music and Film

Non-Fiction - Historical
359 Pages
Reviewed on 12/20/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite

In Search of America by Dr. Arthur Wenk is a comprehensive overview of American history in essays, beginning with the American Revolution, taxation disputes, protests, the Continental Congress, and the Revolutionary War. He explores immigration's impact, Native American treatment, and slavery's origins. Dr. Wenk analyzes immigration policy, legislative acts, racial dynamics, assimilation views, and political influences. He discusses classic American novels, genres, and his venture into detective novel writing. Twentieth-century American artists like Stieglitz, Warhol, and Johns are featured, along with the origins of jazz and iconic songs' cultural significance. Film elements like the evolution of musicals in cinema are explored along with an examination of Alfred Hitchcock's filmmaking style, emphasizing pure cinema, technical prowess, suspense, and recurring themes. The author also addresses enduring tensions in American culture: liberty vs. community, isolation vs. inclusiveness, and the pursuit of freedom.

There is a lot to unpack after reading Dr. Arthur Wenk's In Search of America: Perspectives on History, Literature, Art, Music and Film, and while the writing is simple enough to follow, the content is almost encyclopedic in scope. From a literary standpoint, it's exhaustively researched and presented in an accessible academic voice. What makes Dr. Wenk and his work here unique is the passion he clearly has for what he writes. It feels personal because he injects his passion and personality into the words and shares the excitement that readers who are drawn towards sections that most interest them will undoubtedly feel too. I had a chuckle and some nostalgia for a trip to New York City's Meatpacking District when I came across Frank Stella's painting Die Fahne Hoch! in Dr. Wenk's art chapters. To have the work actually explained to me is something I wish I'd had when my father and I stared at it confused but transfixed years ago. There's a little something for everyone and a lot of good insight for all, and I think others who take the time to settle down with this book will feel it too.

K.C. Finn

In Search of America: Perspectives on History, Literature, Art, Music and Film is a work of non-fiction in the sociocultural writing, historical, and reflective writing subgenres. The work is suitable for all readers and was penned by author Arthur Wenk. Readers are invited to explore a thought-provoking collection of essays that delves into various facets of American history and culture. Dr. Wenk's diverse career experiences, ranging from musicology to psychotherapy, provide him with a unique perspective for essays that cover a wide range of topics, from the American Revolution to the nation's identity as a land of immigrants. They explore literature, shedding light on the role of literature in shaping American identity, and delve into American art, music, and film, offering insights into how these cultural forms have evolved over time.

What I found most compelling about this book was author Arthur Wenk's ability to connect so many diverse cultural aspects and show their interplay in shaping the American experience, transforming seamlessly from small details to the big picture and back again. The work is no mere historical account but a deep exploration of the cultural forces that have shaped the nation over time, yet it’s delivered in such an easy-to-read, enjoyable way. As someone who appreciates the interdisciplinary approaches to understanding culture, particularly through the use of literature and film, I was fascinated by the coverage of the impact of Hollywood and the concept of what makes an American hero. Whether you're interested in history, literature, art, music, or film, there's something in this collection for everyone. Overall, In Search of America is a highly recommended, captivating journey through the heart of American culture by someone who truly understands the subject matter deeply.

Philip Zozzaro

A defiant spirit infused the colonists living in America in the mid-18th century. America was part of the large British empire and was distinct in the expansive government they were allowed at home. However, burdensome taxes and oppressive measures rankled the colonials. Calls for independence were followed by open revolt. Despite the revolution’s success, independence did not apply to every man and woman. The intolerance shown toward African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants left an indelible mark on US history. The beginnings of the American Empire would share characteristics with and inspire themes in popular culture in literature, arts, and film. The individualism espoused by the colonials would be shared by many of the free-spirited writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers featured in Arthur Wenk's In Search of America.

In Search of America is a riveting compilation of essays from author Arthur Wenk covering a broad range of topics from early American history to the evolving landscape of pop culture. Each chapter features an interesting subject complete with annotated research and Wenk’s unvarnished and insightful opinions. The theme of intolerance that was witnessed in the first century of the United States' history is paralleled in the moving literature of Toni Morrison(“Beloved”) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (“The Great Gatsby”). The desire to express oneself through bold choices in art is seen in Jackson Pollock or in the movies of Woody Allen and Frank Capra. The author’s choices for the notable novels, music, and movies may not appeal to everyone's taste, but his reasons behind the choices make an effective argument. This is a thought-provoking work with a wide appeal.