Introducing Yale’s Icons of America series

What it is we picture when we think of America?

Chances are, it will be one of the country’s many cultural or historical icons that spring to mind. It could be a famous American figure such as Martin Luther King, Joe Dimaggio or Bob Dylan. Perhaps it’s an iconic American landmark such as the Hollywood sign or Wall Street, or maybe even a pop-culture icon like Superman or the hamburger. Yale University Press’s ICONS OF AMERICA series focuses on these examples and more, giving us a fascinating insight into these famous symbols, as well as a broader
understanding of the country’s towering cultural legacy.

The Hollywood Sign
Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon
Leo Braudy

Hollywood’s famous sign, constructed of massive white block letters set into a steep hillside, is an emblem of the movie capital it looms over and an international symbol of glamour and star power. Leo Braudy traces the remarkable history of this distinctly American landmark. More

Bob Dylan
Like a Complete Unknown
David Yaffe

Bob Dylan is an iconic figure in American music and cultural history. David Yaffe considers Dylan from four perspectives: his complicated relationship to blackness, the underrated influence of his singing style, his fascinating image in films, and his controversial songwriting methods that have led to charges of plagiarism. More

Wall Street
America’s Dream Palace
Steve Fraser

In this illuminating book, Steve Fraser recounts the colourful history of America’s love-hate relationship with Wall Street. Spanning the years from the first Wall Street panic of 1792 to the bubble-and-bust and Enron scandals of our own time, this book features stories and portraits of such larger-than-life figures as J P Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Michael Milken. More

The Hamburger
A History
Josh Ozersky

What do Americans think of when they think of the hamburger? This book unfolds the immense significance of the hamburger as an American icon. It shows how its history is entwined with American business and culture and, unexpectedly, how the burger’s story is in many ways the story of the country that invented it. More

Joe Dimaggio
The Long Vigil
Jerome Charyn

As the New York Yankees’ star centre fielder from 1936 to 1951, Joe DiMaggio is enshrined in America’s memory as the epitome in sports of grace, dignity, and that ineffable quality called ‘class’. Jerome Charyn presents the tragedy of one of American sports’ greatest figures. More

Andy Warhol
Arthur C. Danto

Arthur Danto delivers a tour of Andy Warhol’s personal, artistic, and philosophical transformations. In this fascinating book, Danto traces the evolution of the pop artist, including his early reception, relationships with artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and the Factory phenomenon.

King’s Dream
Eric J. Sundquist

‘I have a dream’ – no words are more widely recognized, or more often repeated, than those called out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by Martin Luther King, Jr, in 1963. Exploring the ‘I have a dream’ speech, Eric Sandquist places it in the history of American debates about racial justice, debates as old as the nation itself.

Our Hero
Superman on Earth
Tom De Haven

Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the midst of the Great Depression, Superman is both a transcendent figure and, when posing as his alter-ego, reporter Clark Kent, a humble working-class citizen. Tom De Haven shares a personal history with the many Americans who came to this country in search of a better life. More

These are only a selection of books in the Icons of America Series. See the full list

Share this

1 Comment

  • A lovely list so far but what about an icon just as popular and certainly was more critically alive than Hollywood, Ragtimend in late 19th century and early 20th century. Check your popular history, Ragtime was massively popular! And it lived on in other musical styles. Come on, are we allowed to think beyond the box? And I am bored with the lie that Fred Astaire was the epicenter of tap dancing or American dancing! More famous, a cover for us, yes but the man that danced with Shirley Temple or the genuinely extraordinary American dancers Nicolas Brothers are the original icons! Frankly, I am amused and exhausted with white covers, ethnic or otherwise, being influenced by and imitating America’s black cultures but denying its fundamental foundation as a deep part of creating American society. For example, two great American icons: the Penecostal Religion and the invention of Gospel Music! It didn’t start with MLK, thank you very much! Here is a central icon: Lincoln and The Slave! No matter how we view this “big, inconsistent” man, the Union was the key to everything for both him and the slave. Without the union, no greatness for Lincoln, and no freedom for the slave. Both are the heart of American democracy! And whether we measue it through popularity or artistic, incomparable beauty, The Blues, Chicago and the Delta, Nashville too [Blues and Elvis Pristley] transforming American popular music, and the world.
    And an icon that gave us a new kind of masculinity: muscular and sensual, demotic and articulated intelligence, estabishment and edgy abandon, swagger and style: Jack Jonson. Before the icons of Brown v Board of Education, Plessy v Ferguson, was the icon of the Dred Scott Case of 1857 and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850! Both are such profound icons and drive us into the heart of American democracy.
    I have more but may I save them except for the icons that had a profound influence on the United
    States vis a vis people of color, white people and corporations: first, the 13th admendment. But what interests me and I think a book right away is 14th ADMENDMENT: gave the slave citizenship and protection and thus “expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans and is CITED IN MORE LITIGATION THAN than any other amendment.
    Now that’s an American Icon!
    I have a friend that is familiar with this series and laughs at me when I told him what I plan to do before I wrote you.
    We shall see!
    Sincere regards
    Russell Larkin

You must be logged in to post a comment