Musings on A Nation of Reinvention: Background information when reading Beautiful Country Burn Again

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Beautiful Country Burn Again

Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution

by Ben Fountain

Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain X
Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2018, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2019, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Renner
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About this Book

Musings on A Nation of Reinvention

This article relates to Beautiful Country Burn Again

Print Review

PhoenixIn Beautiful Country Burn Again, author Ben Fountain posits that the United States reinvents itself to survive times of extreme crisis. He believes that these severe times of change happen approximately every 80 years, making the Civil War the first great reinvention, followed by the Great Depression and the New Deal in the 1930s, and landing for now, finally, at our shocking 2016 election. But what exactly constitutes a reinvention? For Fountain, it seems to have two distinct parts – the crisis that holds the nation teetering on the precipice and the response and recovery from it. Like his title suggests, a reinvention is much like a phoenix, burning to the ground only to eventually rise up brand new from its own ashes.

To understand this structure, it is useful to examine the crisis that triggered the reinvention period prior to the one Fountain argues we are now in—the Great Depression. Triggered by the stock market collapse of 1929 and the waves of droughts in the 1930s that turned the prairies into a dust bowl, the country entered a period of economic hardship when many, jobless and hungry, struggled to survive. The programs, regulations and reforms introduced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration between 1933 and 1936, known as the New Deal, helped the country surmount the crisis by giving new life to essential industries, providing jobs and even handing out food. The New Deal left its mark on the nation in many forms, from massive public works projects like the Hoover Dam to cultivating the work of writers like Zora Neale Hurston in the Federal Writers Project. Although these New Deal Projects are major parts of our American culture today, they do not seem to hold the same grip on the American psyche as does the Great Depression. Stories of hard times live on, passed down through generations like heirlooms.

And a national reinvention doesn't mean that everyone benefits from new ideas and programs. Think about the reinvention before the Great Depression – the Civil War. After the war, the country put itself back together in the Reconstruction Era. But as Fountain's essay about slave patrols demonstrates, the country didn't reconstruct itself for everyone. Though slavery was abolished, white supremacy retained a hold on the country. Jim Crow laws kept the United States segregated until past the mid-20th century. And more subtle segregation and discrimination continues today. Ours is a nation of reinvention. But what is the actual effect of each rebirth? And how long do those effects last? Only time will tell.

A Phoenix depicted in a book of legendary creatures by FJ Bertuch (1747–1822).

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Rebecca Renner

This "beyond the book article" relates to Beautiful Country Burn Again. It originally ran in October 2018 and has been updated for the September 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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