Book of the Month – November 2019

Behold, America by Sarah Churchwell

Behold, America by Sarah Churchwell

"The American dream is dead," Donald Trump said when announcing his candidacy for president in 2015. How would he revive it? By putting "America First".

'The American Dream' and 'America First' are two of the most loaded phrases in America today – and also two of the most misunderstood. As divides within America widen, historian Sarah Churchwell looks to the past to reveal what the surprising history of these two phrases can tell us about today.

"Churchwell's thoroughness in delineating America's decade-by-decade bigotry through primary sources from speeches to newspapers to novels is a marvel. But it is more than a history lesson. She's constructing the case for how the US elected Donald Trump, a catastrophe many of us struggle to understand." – Prospect Magazine

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See Sarah Churchwell at Hay Festival Winter Weekend

Buy the book

Watch Sarah Churchwell speaking about Behold, America at Hay Festival 2018

Further reading...

How ‘America First’ and ‘The American Dream’ went from hazy sentiments to loaded clichés, New York Times (November 2018)

The original meanings of 'The American Dream' and 'America First' were starkly different from how we use them today, The Smithsonian (October 2018)

Loaded phrases, The Nation (November 2018)

About the author

Sarah Churchwell is Professor of American Literature and Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She is the author of Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, The Invention of The Great Gatsby and The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. Her literary journalism has appeared widely in newspapers including the Guardian, New Statesman, Financial Times, Times Literary Supplement and New York Times Book Review, and she comments regularly on arts, culture, and politics for television and radio, where appearances include Question Time, Newsnight and The Review Show. She has judged many literary prizes, including the 2017 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and she was a co-winner of the 2015 Eccles British Library Writer's Award.

Sarah Churchwell at Hay Festival Wales. Photo by Chris Athanasiou.

About Hay Festival's Book of the Month

Hay Festival's Book of the Month is our monthly recommendation of a title we've loved and think holds added resonance today. While many recommendations celebrate the new, this is a chance to celebrate great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry – new and old – that reaches through time to touch the present.

Throughout the month, we'll share interesting links and articles relating to our selection on social media using #HayBookoftheMonth and invite you all to get involved with your questions and comments.

Over on Hay Player, a special playlist of talks to view online offer additional perspectives on the books from some of the greatest writers and thinkers around the world.

If you'd like to recommend a book for consideration, please email

Happy reading!