This Side of Paradise, Scott Fitzgerald.

American dreams in the mists of time

Our hero is Amory Blaine: handsome yet uncertain, desperate to explore life to the full.  His life blossoms at Princeton: he loves the beauty of the place, the camaraderie, the magic of staying out all night, singing with “dreaming towers.”  But the book plunges on beyond the dream.

The real richness and poignancy of this book is in the unravelling.  Amory flunks exams, fails in love, and all his personal dreams turn to mist.  Alongside this, we see the magic of Princeton evaporate into snobbery, cliques, and then the crunching impact of America joining the First World War.

This book is a valuable guide to the story of the American Dream: the intense magnetism of riches with style, and its repeated puncturing.  The book leads us to the 1920’s, when the young generation had “grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken,” and the general response was to fight even harder for money and success.

If we relate this to American politics, the big support for both extremes, Trump and Sanders, shows us that most American’s feel bitterly excluded from the money and success that they’re still programmed to yearn for.