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It Can't Happen Here (Signet Classics) by…

It Can't Happen Here (Signet Classics) (original 1935; edition 2014)

by Sinclair Lewis (Author), Michael Meyer (Introduction), Gary Scharnhorst (Afterword)

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1,980564,976 (3.79)116
Title:It Can't Happen Here (Signet Classics)
Authors:Sinclair Lewis (Author)
Other authors:Michael Meyer (Introduction), Gary Scharnhorst (Afterword)
Info:Signet (2014), Edition: Reprint, 416 pages
Collections:Your library, EBooks
Tags:Ebooks, British Writer, British Fiction, Fiction, Totalitarianism, Utopianism

Work details

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (1935)

  1. 30
    The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (sturlington)
  2. 00
    The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy by Brian Klaas (ghr4)
  3. 00
    President Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer (Lammers)
    Lammers: A unique literary and historical view of the fears and uncertainties surrounding the 1936 Presidential election.
  4. 00
    The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-1933 by Hector C. Bywater (Lammers)
    Lammers: Though it reads like Alternative History today, the book shows very nicely what people in the 1920s and 1930s could happen in the very near future.

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» See also 116 mentions

English (54)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
This book was published in 1935. An American Liberal newspaper editor endures the descent into fascism by his country. He passes from relatively polite dissent to concentration camp prisoner, to undercover agent. The novel deals as well on the effect of his activities on his family, and community. It is a bit prosy for the modern taste, but sharp eyed. This is not the tight fit to conditions in the age of Trump that some people would have it but not bad for the time. The more you know about the 1930’s and its American politics, the better. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Dec 1, 2018 |
It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
What the devil can be said about this book? Published in 1935, written by Sinclair Lewis, America's first Nobel laureate in literature, it posits that the United States electorate chooses as president a demagogic populist who pretty quickly disbands the senate, the house of representatives, and the supreme court, and runs the country as dictator. The scenario copies Hitler's rise in Germany, but also Mussolini's in Italy, Franco's in Spain (though without the civil war), and Stalin's in the Soviet Union. All happening in 1935.

Today, this 80-year-old novel is being re-examined. Does it foreshadow the rise of Trump?

Lewis' protagonist is Doremus Jessup, the owner and editor of Daily Informer in Fort Beulah, Vermont. Born and raised there, he's married, has three children, two of whom are married, and two grandchildren. He's generally respected in his community. On the eve of the national election he's skeptical enough to answer the titular assertion (It Can't Happen Here), telling an informal gathering of community bigwigs, "The hell it can't." He tells them:

…[T]here's no country in the world that can get more hysterical—yes, or more obsequious!—than America. Look how Huey Long became absolute monarch over Louisiana, and how the Right Honorable Mr. Senator Berzelius Windrip owns his State. Listen to Bishop Prang and Father Coughlin on the radio—divine oracles, to millions... Remember our Red scares and our Catholic scares, when...the Republicans campaigning against Al Smith told the Carolina mountaineers that if Al won the Pope would illegitimatize their children? ...Remember when the hick legislators in certain states, in obedience to William Jennings Bryan, who learned his biology from his pious old grandma, set up shop as scientific experts and made the whole world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution?... Remember the Kentucky night-riders? Remember how trainloads of people have gone to enjoy lynchings? Not happen here? Prohibition—shooting down people just because they might be transporting liquor—no, that couldn't happen in America! Why, where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours!

I do see events today that parallel Jessup's list. Fox news and right-wing radio talkers reprise the real Father Coughlin and Lewis' made-up Bishop Prang. Red scares and Catholic scares foreshadow fears of Islam and immigrants in general. Evolution denial vs. climate science denial. Lynchings vs. mass murders with rapid-fire weaponry.

The "Right Honorable Mr. Senator Berzelius Windrip", of course, is the leading presidential candidate, a demagogue Lewis modeled on Huey Long (who was assassinated shortly before the book's release). Windrip never ran for his state's governorship, but he was the power behind the governor.

…His most original invention was quadrupling the state militia and rewarding the best soldiers in it with training in agriculture, aviation, and radio and automobile engineering.
   The militiamen considered him their general and their god, and when the state attorney general announced that he was going to have Windrip indicted for having grafted $200,000 of tax money, the militia rose to Buzz Windrip's orders as though they were his private army and...covering the streets leading to the Capitol with machine guns, they herded Buzz's enemies out of town.

Shortly after securing the Democratic Party's nomination, Buzz issued his 15-plank platform. For his wife, Doremus succinctly summarized each plank, pointing out that blacks would be squeezed out of jobs and business ownership, women would be forced out of jobs and careers and pushed into homemaking and child-rearing. Jews got a mix of praise and cautions. Unions would be investigated and sanctioned by "a commission", but the effect would be to control labor. Everyone would get a guaranteed annual income of $5,000 (but only after a special commission worked out the financing and other details). The fifteenth and final plank, continued Doremus, "well, that's the one lone clause that really does mean something; and it means that...they...can grab hold of the entire government and have all the power and applause and salutes, all the money and palaces and willin' women they want."

Specifically, that fifteenth plank stipulated that immediately after the inauguration, congress shall initiate Constitutional amendments to turn over control of government to the president, to sideline themselves to an advisory capacity, and to remove from the Supreme Court the power to negate any presidential act as being unconstitutional. Just for the time being, of course; just during the present time of crisis.

Buzz is swept into office and quickly executes that fifteenth plank. The states are abolished and the country instead is divided into districts. Most of the officials are appointed, and few have public service experience. In fact, the less qualified an individual seems, the more likely he is (yes, the reins are in male hands exclusively) to get the job.

The impact of the takeover, much more than the mechanics of it, is what makes the tale. It isn't really about Buzz Windrip, it's about the mindset of the electorate, the thinking of the captains of local chambers of commerce and of the small-beer rank-and-file. It's about reactions to hot terms: the "isms." (They still trigger hot reactions today.) Socialism. Marxism. Communism. Fascism. Anarchism. Lewis presents a citizenry quite ready to spy on, squeal on, lie about, and brutalize family, friends, neighbors--anyone who isn't specifically them.

According to Lewis biographer Mark Schorer, "It Can't Happen Here would never have been written if Sinclair Lewis had not been married to Dorothy Thompson, if he had not absorbed a good deal more than he often pretended from those excited discussions, in which she was the center, of the situation in Europe…, especially in Hitler's Germany, and of its reflection in the political situation in the United States. The long tradition of irrational demagoguery in American politics seemed to have come to a climax in the threatening power of a figure like Huey Long, and in the proliferation during the 1930s of dozens of fanatical political groups, each giving its fealty to its own crackpot leader." [Emphasis mine.]

The takeaway from It Can't Happen Here is that an enormous portion of the electorate is—and always has been—ignorant, ill-informed, uninvolved, fearful, gullible, just ripe—in other words— for some loud charlatan to win them over and take them over. Lewis acknowledged it was not a good book, maybe second tier, but it did, he thought, skewer all the "ism" and their believers and disbelievers.

I'm glad I read the book. It is dated in its pacing and dialogue. Seemed odd to focus on a small town in a rural locale, though the injustices and inhumanity were thoroughly depicted. Read it for yourself.
  weird_O | Nov 5, 2018 |
Regarding Presidential Candidate Windrip’s nomination convention with the description of the procession: "Leading it, in old blue uniforms, were two G.A.R. veterans, and between, arm-in-arm with them, a Confederate in gray. … The Confederate carried a Virginia regimental banner, torn as by shrapnel; and one of the Union veterans lifted high a slashed flag of the First Minnesota. … Lee Sarason [,public relations manager,] never told anyone save Buzz Windrip that both flags had been manufactured .. in 1929, for the patriotic drama, 'Morgan’s Riding'."

Stunning imagery such as above brings to mind the gold veneer of the Gilded Age. ( )
  aevaughn | Oct 22, 2018 |
This old classic published in 1935 made a huge comeback after Donald Trump became the President of the United States. In a nutshell, it’s the story of a crude politician who bamboozles everyone into voting for him and then becomes a tyrant- a dictator as bad as Hitler. Yes, it’s about a Fascist dictatorship.

President Donald Trump went into office with a reputation for outspoken animosity towards the polite and cunning, diplomatic oratory of most politicians. He campaigned with a style of his own… barking out promises, creating disparaging nicknames for his opponents, and assuring the public he would drain the Washington DC swamp. In some ways he does personally resemble the villain of "It Can’t Happen Here" during his campaigning phase.

The only problem with the Donald Trump comparison is lot of the antics of the “Fascist” government in this novel are more akin to what the liberal Democrats are doing right now in real life- trying to disarm the general public, flooding the airwaves with biased news, using scathing comedy shows against the opposition, censoring speakers and classic literature on college campuses, pushing for “group think”, mob rule, violence at protests, and the newest offense- (as with Judge Kavanaugh) the irrational supposition that anyone and everyone is guilty until proven innocent- regardless of the facts or lack of evidence and detail. These tactics were all part of the Fascists mode of control.

One fact the story subtly points out- though it sometimes gets lost in the twisted drama of the plot- is that Communism is just as bad and just as deadly for a democratic society as Fascism. We need look no further than Joseph Stalin’s Communist Dictatorship in Russia and Mao Zedong’s Communist Dictatorship in China. But neither of these regimes had yet occurred at the time "It Can’t Happen Here" was published. So Lewis
glorifies communism, and socialism, which is basically the subtle path to communism.

If it weren’t for the current political climate, this novel would just fade into obscurity. The plot and characters are irredeemably flawed. The characters are one dimensional, the dialogue inane, and the plot far-fetched. In spite of the poor quality of the story, "It Can’t Happen Here" presents a scary picture of what a dictatorship would entail- including concentration camps and random executions. But my advice, if you are looking for stories of political disasters and public persecution, there are hundreds of factual accounts of what happened in Germany, Russia, China and a number of other smaller countries that suffered political dictatorships... including many that collapsed under Socialist rule. ( )
1 vote LadyLo | Oct 20, 2018 |
A chilling warning not to take democracy for granted. This sharp satire follows the rise of an American fascist. We see events through the eyes of Doremus Jessup, a small-town newspaper editor who witnesses the election of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip in 1936. A colorful politician based on Huey Long, the controversial Louisiana politician, Windrip triumphs on a platform of populist reforms and traditional values. However, he leads the transformation of the government into a totalitarian state ruled by fear and enforced by the blue-clad Minute Men, an American version of the Nazi Brownshirts. We follow Doremus's bitter struggle against the government and his role in the resistance. The book is an alarming reminder that American freedoms are fragile and is still relevant today. ( )
  trile1000 | Jul 1, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
“It Can’t Happen Here” is a work of dystopian fantasy, one man’s effort in the 1930s to imagine what it might look like if fascism came to America. At the time, the obvious specter was Adolf Hitler, whose rise to power in Germany provoked fears that men like the Louisiana senator Huey Long or the radio priest Charles Coughlin might accomplish a similar feat in the United States. Today, Lewis’s novel is making a comeback as an analogy for the Age of Trump.

» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sinclair Lewisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kennedy, Jay RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meisel, PerryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meyer, MichaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scharnhorst, GaryAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schorer, MarkIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The handsome dining room of the Hotel Wessex, with its gilded plaster shields and the mural depicting the Green Mountains, had been reserved for the Ladies' Night Dinner of the Fort Beulah Rotary Club.
I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever.
Summarized, the letter explained that he was all against the banks but all for the bankers—except the Jewish bankers, who were to be driven out of finance entirely; that he had thoroughly tested (but unspecified) plans to make all wages very high and the prices of everything produced by these same highly paid workers very low; that he was 100 per cent for Labor, but 100 per cent against all strikes; and that he was in favor of the United States so arming itself, so preparing to produce its own coffee, sugar, perfumes, tweeds, and nickel instead of importing them, that it could defy the World . . . and maybe, if that World was so impertinent as to defy America in turn, Buzz hinted, he might have to take it over and run it properly. (Chapter 7)
And Loveland, teacher of Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit (two lone students), had never till now meddled in any politics of more recent date than A.D. 180. (p. 25)
"...we've got to change our system a lot, maybe even change the whole Constitution...The executive has got to have a freer hand and be able to move quick in an emergency, and not be tied down by a lot of dumb shyster-lawyer congressmen taking months to shoot off their mouths in debate." (p. 30, Senator Windrip)
He used to surprise persons who were about to shake hands with him by suddenly bending their fingers back till they almost broke. (p. 29)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 045121658X, Paperback)

The only one of Sinclair Lewis's later novels to match the power of Main Street, Babbitt, and Arrowsmith, It Can't Happen Here is a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy, an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America. Written during the Great Depression when America was largely oblivious to Hitler's aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a President who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, rampant promiscuity, crime, and a liberal press. Now finally back in print, It Can't Happen Here remains uniquely important, a shockingly prescient novel that's as fresh and contemporary as today's news.
"Written at white heat." —Chicago Tribune
"A message to thinking Americans." —Springfield Republican
"Not only [Lewis's] most important book but one of the most important books ever produced in this country." —The New Yorker

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:51 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A New England newspaper editor fights to destroy the fascist dictatorship established by President Berzelius Windrip in this classic work by the author of Babbit, Arrowsmith, and Main Street that prophesizes the coming of totalitarianism in the United States.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 10 descriptions

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