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Book Review: The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice

This review of The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice by Greil Marcus will be short because I only read about half of the book. I was drawn to the promise of insightful and surprising linkages between disparate parts of American culture, such as how Lincoln's Gettysburg Address influenced MLK's so-called "I have a dream" speech. Unfortunately, what I found instead was a flitting narrative that relied too heavily on cultural references with which I am unfamiliar. Songs, music, and movies that I've never heard of, let alone consumed, were used to draw analogies that not only didn't resonate with me, but were so vaguely explained that I couldn't understand the point the author was making.

Books that try to find something meaningful in popular culture have a hard row to hoe, but even more so when they use obscure artifacts and assume the reader is familiar with them. I tried to hang in with this book, but ultimately it was like listening to a stoned intellectual enthuse about topics I'd never heard of. I politely wandered away while he was ranting, and I don't think he even noticed.


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