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It Can't Happen Here

It Can't Happen Here

Book - 1993
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"The novel that foreshadowed Donald Trump's authoritarian appeal."--Salon

It Can't Happen Here is the only one of Sinclair Lewis's later novels to match the power of Main Street, Babbitt , and Arrowsmith . A cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy, it is an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America.

Written during the Great Depression, when the country was largely oblivious to Hitler's aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press.

Called "a message to thinking Americans" by the Springfield Republican when it was published in 1935, It Can't Happen Here is a shockingly prescient novel that remains as fresh and contemporary as today's news.

With an Introduction by Michael Meyer
and an Afterword by Gary Scharnhorst
Publisher: New York : Signet Classic, c1993
ISBN: 9780451465641
Call Number: F LEWIS SI
Characteristics: 330 p. ; 18 cm
Additional Contributors: Meisel, Perry


From Library Staff

Our January 2019 selection was It Can't Happen Here, the prophetic 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis. Written during the Great Depression, when the country was largely oblivious to Hitler's aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a... Read More »

List - Trump-Era Reading List
SFPL_Teen Dec 01, 2016

Or can it? Lewis looked at Depression-Era American and saw how it possibly could.

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Jan 18, 2021

What I enjoy about Sinclair Lewis' writing is the satire. It is hilarious the way he pokes fun at provincial Midwest small town life. There is some satire in this book, but the theme is too serious to bring out much humour. And, as others have noted, Lewis seems to want to name every contemporary personality in this book, which means nothing to me and makes for a very long read.

Mar 09, 2020

The beginning of this book was rough going for me and for a moment I thought I wouldn't finish it (or it would take me a month to read). But it improved and I got used to it. The problem was that there were so many anecdotal topical references that I didn't have a clue about. Picture a novel written now that's read in 85 years and mentions Mayor Pete and bubble tea and Carrie Underwood and selfies and Chris Pratt and Khaleesi. I can imagine how bemused that future reader would be. Anyway, I gave up on figuring out all of the names and references (but I certainly loved the shade Lewis threw at Upton Sinclair!) and focused on this eerily prescient 1935 novel that more or less predicts our current political climate and the election of Trump. I am a fan of Lewis and have read and loved his big 5 (Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, Dodsworth, and Elmer Gantry) and this isn't near as good a novel as those, but it was a great political read. And the hero is a journalist named - of all things - Doremus Jessup, so who can't love that?

Sep 11, 2019

The same genre as "1984" and "The Handmaiden's Tale", this dystopian saga has many parallels to today's politics. A product of the depression era 1930s, the writing style is dated; however, it is important to understand how society can come under the spell of a movement that promises much but delivers nothing but grief. For this it is worth reading.

Jul 08, 2019

Written in the 30's a fictional story of how America becomes a fascist state. Many parallels to present day politics where the wealthy have way too much say in our government. It was not an easy read for me, as many of the characters are from that period. Sadly the book presents few solutions.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Jul 02, 2019

Eerie reading. Published before WWII, this novel describes the rise to power of an authoritarian dictator in the United States. Not only was it prescient in it's description of authoritarianism in Europe in the subsequent decade, it also has stunning parallels to the present-day United States.

Jun 21, 2019

It's sad how this book has dated very little in its political satire. It's a chilling book, but also darkly humorous. However, its characters are a bit too simple and its worldbuilding a bit too vague for me to put it beside dystopian classics like NINETEEN-EIGHTY-FOUR or BRAVE NEW WORLD.

Jun 15, 2019

A prescient view for the mid 1930s, this novel has relevance for today as well. The march of the fascist movement is alive today and an almost mirror image of the situation in 1935 when this novel was first published. Like Orwell's "1984" it foresees a future that is all too apparent today. From the attacks on an independent news media, to a barrage of lies and false promises from the White House, this novel talks to contemporary America providing a warning to a complacent population that "It can happen here".

Apr 03, 2019

Continue page 74, end of chapter 9

Aug 22, 2017

Perhaps because my parents were teenagers during the period covered by this book, I found it an easy read, almost a page-turner. Doremus Jessup and his friends are fleshed-out nicely, but one must remember that Lewis uses every character in this book as an archetype for some position or attitude. For instance, token Communist Karl Pascal is used to represent the fractured Left, forming circular firing squads, which is as accurate today as it was in the 1930s. Lewis has fun with the names he uses for his characters, poking at some of the well-known persons of his era. I learned that during the Great War, sauerkraut was referred to as “Liberty cabbage,” showing that “Freedom fries” used against the French during the Iraq invasion had a historical antecedent.
Commenters have compared Buzz Windrip’s campaign to Donald Trump’s, and I suppose that 2016 could be compared to the fictional 1936 quite easily. But Windrip understood the political game and had a significantly skilled management team, so there is no comparison between 2017 and the fictional 1937.

Jul 31, 2017

I read this novel about forty years ago. It's very artificial, but not unreadably so. The same applies to Lewis's KINGSBLOOD ROYAL, an assault on racism. If Lewis were writing today, he would likely satirize big government regimentation and Supreme Court imposition of abortion and gay marriage against the will of the people expressed through their state legislatures. And he would surely be alarmed by the anti-Russian hysteria that Democrats are trying to fan in order to subvert the result of the 2016 election.

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Aug 18, 2016

Could a fascist regime take hold in America? This book shows exactly how it could happen here - and even though it was written in 1935, it still resonates today. Riveting plot with the motivations clearly (and insidiously) explained and made plausible.


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Aug 18, 2016

"He loved the people just as much as he feared and detested persons."


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