Telling the full story of the American Way of Life (or more simply the American Way) in the United States over the course of the last century reveals key insights that add to our understanding of American culture. Lawrence R. Samuel argues that since the term was popularized in the 1930s, the American Way has served as the primary guiding mythology or national ethos of the United States.
More than that, however, this work shows that the American Way has represented many things to many people, making the mythology a useful device for anyone wishing to promote a particular agenda that serves his or her interests. A consumerist lifestyle supported by a system based in free enterprise has been the ideological backbone of the American Way, but the term has been attached to everything from farming to baseball to barbecue. There really is no single, identifiable American Way and never has been—it becomes clear after tracing its history—making it a kind of Zelig of belief systems. If our underlying philosophy or set of values is amorphous and nebulous, then so is our national identity and character, Samuel concludes, implying that the meaning of America is elastic and accommodating to many interpretations. This unique thesis sets off this work from other books and helps establish it as a seminal resource within the fields of American history and American studies.