Each novel is divided into four distinct ways of comprehending history. The Newsreel sections report on the public events of the day (wars, scandals, political trials, and the like). The Camera Eye sections are reflective of the author’s deeply personal experience and are written in a highly subjective and elusive manner that requires careful concentration. The episodic sections concern the biographies of individuals who are often alienated from the youthful hopes for their lives. Finally, highly condensed and brilliantly ironic biographies of famous figures (Woodrow Wilson, for example) are interspersed in the narrative to give examples of successful but gravely flawed Americans.

In THE 42ND PARALLEL, Dos Passos tells of the rise of characters such as J. Ward Moorehouse, a public relations executive, and Charley Anderson, a former aviator who becomes a wealthy airplane manufacturer, dramatizing the growth of both business and labor at the beginning of “the American Century,” as one of the Newsreel sections calls it.

1919 focuses on the political consequences of the development of capitalism and shifts attention away from inventors such as Edison featured in the first novel to radicals such as Joe Hill and John Reed.

THE BIG MONEY explores the enormous impact of the mass media and Hollywood in capsule biographies of Rudolph Valentino and William Randolph Hearst and in the lives of characters such as Margo Dowling, who enjoy...

(The entire section is 488 words.)