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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.