This Land that I Love

Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems

Regular Price $27

Regular Price $34 CAD

Regular Price $27

Regular Price $34 CAD

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On Sale

Nov 5, 2013

Page Count

288 Pages




February, 1940: After a decade of worldwide depression, World War II had begun in Europe and Asia. With Germany on the march, and Japan at war with China, the global crisis was in a crescendo. America’s top songwriter, Irving Berlin, had captured the nation’s mood a little more than a year before with his patriotic hymn, “God Bless America.”

Woody Guthrie was having none of it. Near-starving and penniless, he was traveling from Texas to New York to make a new start. As he eked his way across the country by bus and by thumb, he couldn’t avoid Berlin’s song. Some people say that it was when he was freezing by the side of the road in a Pennsylvania snowstorm that he conceived of a rebuttal. It would encompass the dark realities of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, and it would begin with the lines: “This land is your land, this land is my land.”

In This Land That I Love, John Shaw writes the dual biography of these beloved American songs. Examining the lives of their authors, he finds that Guthrie and Berlin had more in common than either could have guessed. Though Guthrie’s image was defined by train-hopping, Irving Berlin had also risen from homelessness, having worked his way up from the streets of New York.

At the same time, This Land That I Love sheds new light on our patriotic musical heritage, from “Yankee Doodle” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” to Martin Luther King’s recitation from “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. Delving into the deeper history of war songs, minstrelsy, ragtime, country music, folk music, and African American spirituals, Shaw unearths a rich vein of half-forgotten musical traditions. With the aid of archival research, he uncovers new details about the songs, including a never-before-printed verse for “This Land Is Your Land.” The result is a fascinating narrative that refracts and re-envisions America’s tumultuous history through the prism of two unforgettable anthems.

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— One of The Atlantic's Notable Releases of Fall 2013 —

“Entertaining and informative.” New York Times Book Review

“Engaging… Shaw wields an impressive grasp of American musical history.” Boston Globe

“[Shaw] is particularly good at nailing down the melodic ancestors for these Great American Anthems and for tracing the various revisions Berlin and Guthrie made to their songs along the way… This Land That I Love traverses, in a relatively small number of pages, the whole canvas of America.” Slate

“[Shaw] effectively connects [‘This Land Is Your Land'] to earlier anthems… Ultimately, This Land That I Love is about more than two songs, or the two men who created them.” Daily Beast

“It's a lyrical mix of folklore, Americana, history, music theory, and pop culture that tracks how two supposedly opposing songs end up in the same place, on a short list of the best ditties ever written about the American experience.” Biographile
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