American Mythos

Why Our Best Efforts to Be a Better Nation Fall Short


America was built on stories: tales of grateful immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, Horatio Alger-style transformations, self-made men, and the Protestant work ethic. In this new book, renowned sociologist Robert Wuthnow examines these most American of stories--narratives about individualism, immigration, success, religion, and ethnicity--through the eyes of recent immigrants. In doing so, he demonstrates how the "American mythos" has both legitimized American society and prevented it from fully realizing its ideals.

This magisterial work is a reflection and meditation on the national consciousness. It details how Americans have traditionally relied on narratives to address what it means to be strong, morally responsible individuals and to explain why some people are more successful than others--in short, to help us make sense of our lives. But it argues that these narratives have done little to help us confront new challenges. We pass laws to end racial discrimination, yet lack the resolve to create a more equitable society. We welcome the idea of pluralism in religion and values, yet we are shaken by the difficulties immigration presents. We champion prosperity for all, but live in a country where families are still homeless.

American Mythos aptly documents this disconnect between the stories we tell and the reality we face. Examining how cultural narratives may not, and often do not, reflect the reality of today's society, it challenges readers to become more reflective about what it means to live up to the American ideal.

  • Princeton University Press; February 2009
  • ISBN: 9781400827022
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure EPUB format
  • Title: American Mythos
  • Author: Robert Wuthnow
  • Imprint: Princeton University Press

In The Press

"Robert Wuthnow is one of the most prolific and thoughtful observers of contemporary American society. In this latest book he raises his sights to encompass much of our history and our culture. What he has to say, especially about the importance of narratives and cultural myths, and about immigrants and religion and ethnicity, merits the attention of all of us who would like America to be a better nation."—Robert Putnam, Harvard University, author of Bowling Alone

About The Author

Robert Wuthnow is Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. His recent books include America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity and Saving America? Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society (both Princeton).