The Magnificent Ambersons, winner of the 1919 Pulitzer prize, is considered by many to be Booth Tarkington’s finest novel and an American classic. The story is set in the Midwest, where George, the spoiled and oblivious scion of an old-money family, must cope with their waning fortunes and the rise of industry barons in the automobile age.
George’s antiheroic struggles with modernity encapsulate a greater theme of change and renewal—specifically, the very American notion of a small community exploding into a dark and dirty city virtually overnight by virtue of industrial “progress.” Tarkington’s nuanced portrayal of the often-unlikable Amberson family and his paradoxical framing of progress as a destroyer of family, community, and environment, make The Magnificent Ambersons a fascinating and forward-thinking novel—certainly one with a permanent place in the American social canon. Despite the often heavy themes, Tarkington’s prose remains uniquely witty, charming, and brisk.
The novel is the second in Tarkington’s “Growth” trilogy of novels, and has been adapted several times for radio, film, and television, including a 1942 Orson Welles adaptation that many consider one of the finest American films ever made.
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