Background reading for Against the Day?
October 15, 2006 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Thomas Pynchon has a new novel coming out in December. It's called Against the Day. Can you recommend some good background sources for the period it is set in?

Here is a description, from Pynchon himself:

"Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all."

Ideally I'm looking for works that would cover a few of these topics and/or a good chunk of the time period, rather than more specific books like The Devil in the White City. I realize that's a pretty broad brief though, so all suggestions are welcome. Thanks!
posted by PinkStainlessTail to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Robert Weibe's Search for Order might be good for the US populist-labor-progressive social narrative.
posted by jmgorman at 7:23 AM on October 15, 2006

Assuming anything about a Pynchon novel is dangerous, but for this question let's assume he's tackling the rise of America as a world power from the perspective of its decline.

For politics: A.J.P. Taylor's "The Struggle for Mastery in Europe II"; Book XII, "The Victorian Age", of Winston Churchill's "History of the English-Speaking Peoples".
For social interpretation: Barbara Tuchman, "The Proud Tower".
For vignettes leading to WWI: H.G. Wells, "Mr. Britling Sees it Through"; Erskine Childers, "The Riddle of the Sands".

There are so many residual strains from the (US) War of Northern Aggression in this time period that a good knowledge of Reconstruction is probably worth while; perhaps someone can advise on that.
posted by jet_silver at 7:37 AM on October 15, 2006

Randall McGuire and a team of other archaeologists have excavated the Colorado Coal Field War (1913-1914) site and published extensively on it, if you're into academic articles.
posted by The Michael The at 8:32 AM on October 15, 2006

Response by poster: An answer for my own question, based on a hunch: Pynchon has shown an interest in Henry Adams before, and Adams's dates are right for this period. May need to reread The Education.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:28 PM on October 15, 2006

Well, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex are both interesting and readable biographies of the life and times and TR, written by Edmund Morris, and pretty much cover the timespan you're looking for.
posted by crunchland at 6:29 PM on October 15, 2006

You might consider joining the Pynchon listserv, where this very question is being discussed ad nauseum, with brief gaps for other Pynchon related trivia. The list will also have a group reading that's bound to glean alot from the book, once it comes out.
posted by OmieWise at 12:42 PM on October 16, 2006

Response by poster: Great suggestion, OmieWise. I joined the listserv this morning. Maybe I'll update this thread if anything significant comes up from there.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:35 AM on October 17, 2006

Hah, I didn't think of it until you posted your response, but I mentioned to someone else who had a general question on the P-List that they should join AskMe, and they did, now it's happened the other way around.
posted by OmieWise at 12:57 PM on October 17, 2006

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