7-2 | American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Rebellion

Book Review

American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Rebellion

John Beckman
New York: Pantheon, 2014. Notes, index, images. 402 pp. $28.95 cloth. ISBN: 97803079808179

by Gary Cross

First Paragraph:

English Professor John Beckman’s book is an erudite, engaging history, utterly free of jargon. His thesis is simple but one that gives him plenty of room for telling delightful stories and offering insight. Somehow, he says, inherent in the American character is a love of “fun,” the active, risk-taking, often irreverent enjoyment of “flaunted pleasure in the face of authority” (p. xiii), but also a fun that unites “the crowd in common joy” (p. xiv). This love of fun originates with the people, even though it was co-opted by impresarios like P. T. Barnum during the Gilded Age and, later, by Walt Disney; but the best fun still is rebellious and mocking, while remaining civil. American fun descended from the festivities of Thomas Morton at Merry Mount in Puritan Massachusetts and the playful Sons of Liberty whose protests against the British imposition of the Tea Act precipitated the American Revolution in 1776 to the Merry Pranksters of Ken Kesey and the new leftists of the Yippie movement in the 1960s and even the antics of punks and anti–World Trade Organization rallies in the 1980s and later.