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The only one of Sinclair Lewis's later novels to match the power of Main Street Babbitt and Arrowsmith It Can't Happen Here is a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy an alarming eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America Written during the Great Depression when America 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 rampant promiscuity crime and a liberal press Now finally back in print It Can't Happen Here remains uniuely important a shockingly prescient novel that's as fresh and contemporary as today's news

10 thoughts on “It Can't Happen Here

  1. says:

    A friend of mine that was recently in London told me that all the bookshops there had Roth's The Plot Against America and It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis Alarmist? Perhaps but as I already said in my review of The Plot Against America maybe notIn It Can't Happen Here rather than Lindbergh tromping FDR as in The Plot Against America we have a populist Windrip who takes the Democratic nomination in 1936 by storm on a platform promising 5000 to each American citizen and naturally crushes the Republican opposition Before becoming President and subseuently dictator Windrip wrote a populist book called Zero Hour which was your typical Drumpf ian boisterous blather about the evils of everyone except himself and espousal of views about making America great again but not in so many words Doremus Jessup is the protagonist an ageing editor for the Vermont Daily Informer and as events unfold goes from It Can't Happen Here to Oh shit it has already happened Windrip issues a 15 point plan which has some parallels to Drumpf's platform and appoints eually unualified people to his inner circle Doremus' characterization of Windrip in Chapter 9 The Sentator was vulgar almost illiterate a public liar almost detected and in his ideas almost idiotic while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture and yet his celebrated humor the shy cynicism of a country store certainly fits Drumpf to an extent Worse Windrip in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and facts figures and facts that were inescapable even when as often happened they were entirely wrong which is of course pure Drumpf on TwitterLewis' book is even pessimistic than Roth's because America spins out into a mess of mass murders under the Gestopo like Militia Men MM corps which are deployed nationwide and terrorise all sectors of the population preferably the educated Jewish and anyone even suspecting of whispering slander against the administration It is a terrifying narrative and again unlike Roth does NOT have a happy ending We were warned at least twice by our own writers and also by Orwell and others outside of the US of letting ignorant populism run away with American politics I hope that the dire seuence of events under the fictional Windrip will not be echoed by the reality of Drumpf but then sometimes fact is even stranger and terrifying than fiction I like how Doremus sums it up near the end More and as I think about history I am convinced that everything that it is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free inuiring critical spirit and that the preservation of this spirit is important than any social system whatsoever But the men of ritual and barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and silencing them foreverA must readUnfortunately gets real every passing day Incredible that ever passing day things continue to devolve into what Sinclair Lewis envisioned Yesterday's hate filled publicity inciting gun owners to rise against liberals is not dissimilar from Windrip's use of the MM for fomenting racist attacks Not to mention Drumpf's sexist tweets against Morning Joe How many Doremuses will there be to #resist this current frontal assault on American democracy?Time continues to slip by and the world it continues to happen here unfortunately

  2. says:

    October 8 2015I am just on page 84 of this book but I cannot wait to write a review So I will write a preliminary reviewSinclair Lewis wrote this meanwhile classic satire in 1936 And I am afraid that fictious history might become true 80 years after this book has been writtenThe satiric novel tells about an American presidential candidate who is very belligerent and bombastic Irony of all irony Even though he is clearly a fascist he hitches a ride from the Democratic Party to come to power Will keep you updatedI URGE YOU TO READ THIS BOOKOctober 10 2015I rarely have time to read anywhere else than in bed or in the bathroom At neither locations I keep any writing material So in order to be able to treat you to a few excerpts from this book I had to sit down at a table to reread part of what I had already read and take some notesI try to keep this review short so I’ll confine myself to only a few passages They all portray the presidential candidate protagonist whom for simplicity I will only call “The Candidate” I’ll leave it up to you to find similarities to any of the present presidential candidatesHere I goAt the nomination event The Candidate eventually retires to his hotel room leaving a letter to be read to the electorate “Summarized the letter explained that he was all against the banks but all for the bankers ; that he had thoroughly tested but unspecified plans to make all wages very high and the prices of everything produced by these same highly paid workers very low; that he was 100 per cent for Labor but 100 per cent against all strikes; and that he was in favor of the United States so arming itself so preparing to produce its own coffee sugar perfumes tweed and nickel instead of importing them that it would defy the World and maybe if that World was so impertinent as to defy America in turn The Candidate hinted he might have to take it over and run it properly”The other protagonist owner of a small town newspaper whom I’ll call The Newspaper Man describes The Candidate as follows“Aside from his dramatic glory The Candidate was a Professional Common Man—Oh he was common enough He had every prejudice and aspiration of every American Common Man But he was the Common Man twenty times magnified by his oratory so that while the other Commoners could understand his every purpose which was exactly the same as their own they saw him towering among them and they raised hands to him in worship”And the Newspaper Man continues a few pages later “The few who did fail to adore and support The Candidate most of them newspapermen disliked the smell of him than before they had met him Even they by the unusual spiritedness and color of their attack upon him kept his name alive in every column ”Will keep you updatedPLEASE READ THIS BOOKOctober 12 2015I am now getting towards the middle of the book; precisely I have read to page 156As you might have guessed The Candidate became The Nominee and The Nominee became The PresidentMy oh my What can I say? The book is getting eery As a matter of fact I think Sinclair Lewis has plagiarized “Pfaffenhofen unterm Hakenkreuz” “Pfaffenhofen under the swastika” a non fiction book written by a local historian telling how my hometown was nazified during the 1920s and 1930s This was accomplished with rallies some of which Hitler in person attended promises marches songs propaganda and finally with hard core brainwash; and as you might have heard of because it happened all over Germany with harassing and threatening those citizens who resisted the brainwash and sending dissidents of every couleur to Dachau Actually not all of the latter were sent to Dachau; some were properly arrested and brought in front of the “Volksgericht” People’s Court where a defense attorney was unnecessary And a few were found dead said to be murdered by some bolshevik swines Mind you all this happened before I was born in 1939 So I cannot really testify to it and have to take the local historian’s word for it This book btw is out of print and there is unlikely to be a new edition because there are rumors that the author has received death threatsGetting back to America No this can’t happen here IT definitely CAN’T HAPPEN HERE None of our present presidential candidates are evil I have said this before but I cannot say it often enough NONE OF THEM ARE EVIL Some are even very pious Mind you some are a bit power craving ok a few are a bit than a bit power craving Some and here I am definitely not naming names are not the very brightest One seems to be megalomaniac might be treatable This particular one is also very rude vulgar and scarily belligerent I wouldn’t even rule out that one or another is a bit of a scoundrel but none of them are evil So IT CAN’T HAPPEN HEREYet an old German proverb says “Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben” “One should not praise the day before the evening” I am not yet finished reading this book So let’s see how it will go from hereOh btw I have trouble with all the names in this book Being nuttin’ but an immigrant listen Mr Trump a LEGAL immigrant I am not very familiar with American politicians and other celebrities of days past But I get by without identifying all of these characters One of the things I really like about this book is that it enables me to widen my meager ESL vocabulary So for instance I just recently came across the word “gas bag” I had known “wind bag” but “gas bag” can be so much fitting Sinclair Lewis even uses the expression “the gassiest of all gassy gas bags” This is such a beautiful and flowery expression I don’t know how I have been able to live without this expression for almost 76 yearsTalk to you again when I read further onIn the meantime GO AND START READING THIS BOOKOctober 17 2015I am now on page 258 America has been turned into a bomb tight police state terrorizing and murdering its non conformist citizens And I tell you this COULD HAVE HAPPENED in the 1930s because all differences taken into account Americans are NOT THAT MUCH DIFFERENT from Europeans and even GermansYet I am rather sure that IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE now in the early 21st century But don’t relax yet Worse things CAN HAPPEN nowSo get off your couch and do something Don’t let worse things happenWill keep you postedHOPE YOU HAVE ALREADY STARTED READING THIS BOOK October 21 2015I have now read to page 355It’s not funny any And I don’t mean the police state as it goes without saying that this isn’t funny I mean the book It is turning into a horror story and I don’t like horror stories I never read horror fiction and I get than I ever want non fiction horror from the news and from reading Holocaust memoirs which I consider every decent person’s duty to readSo what is happening to this satire novel? I always thought that satire while allowed to be acid is supposed to be funny Could it be that Sinclair Lewis’s wife the journalist who visited Germany several times and even interviewed Hitler got mad at her husband for writing too funny a book about such a serious matter as an abominable police state with concentration camps torture and state approved murder? Could it be that she kicked him and coaxed him to describe in detail what oppressive totalitarian regimes do to their non conformist citizens and occasionally even to their conformist citizens who fall out of grace for one reason or another?I am confused Let’s see where this book goes from here I hope to be able to finish reading tonightHowever regardless of how much criticism of this book I might come up with and whether or not I’ll see myself compelled to snip off a star GO AND READ THIS BOOKOctober 21 2015 — eveningI am now done with page 380; this means that I have finished reading this bookSo what can I say? First of all I would like to express my relief that the last 25 pages contain no horror details I don’t wish to include spoilers So just let me say that a lot of things happened already in the previous pages—changes in government and the like But now guess what The President of the United States has STARTED A WAR WITH MEXICO—no not because of illegal immigrants and not even because he wants to build a wall on the Mexican border and the Mexican government refuses to pay for it There wasn’t even any talk about Mexicans raping American women Instead there are songs about American soldiers having fun with Mexican girls No it is something else Oh gosh I forget what this war is for but it doesn’t really matter The underlying cause is that the President of the United States and his Secretary of War plus a few other government officials consider the Mexicans inferior and inferior people shouldn’t be allowed to own a country As I said I don’t uite remember the official reasonAnd now what? Well I won’t give away the end It is a bit inconclusive and I am not too impressed with it So don’t expect a happy end Who expects a happy end anyway with a book like this one? Let me close with an uplifting thought In the 1930s there were no nuclear weapons Thus no one not even Hitler would be able to produce a total Armageddon So don’t worry about the ending of this book It can’t be all badToday however there are nuclear weapons and a WWIII will most likely be the war to end all wars except maybe for insect wars I hear that insects are resistant to radiation than mammalsNow where was I? Allow me I am a senior and seniors occasionally lose their train of thought I wanted to close with an uplifting thought That’s right Ok So let’s return to the title of the book It says “IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE” I decided to leave the rating at 5 stars The general message of this book makes up for the flawsPS February 9 2016 After the primary results in New Hampshire I am afraid IT CAN HAPPEN HERE Time to start doomsday preppingPPS November 9 2016 IT HAS HAPPENED HERE

  3. says:

    It Can’t Happen Here is Sinclair Lewis’ political satire and propagandized account of the rise of an American fascist Perhaps most compelling is the fact that Lewis wrote the book only a couple of years after Hitler’s rise to power and 13 years before Orwell’s 1984 Lewis was an astute and keen observer of political power and was a canary in the coal mine for a world that would soon know much grief Considering that Lewis published this in 1935 it is eerily uncanny the way his fictitious predictions about American despotism would four years later parallel the Nazi blitzkrieg Also noteworthy is Lewis’ ability to create a uniuely American dictator not a swastika brandishing Teuton or an Italian variety autocrat but one who rises to power uoting folksy barbs and appealing to the New World everyman Also this is an endearing call to arms for people to stand up to tyranny even in the early stages and to be wary of the societal symptoms of fascist beginnings Finally this is simply a good story told by a brilliant writer this being published 5 years after he had received his Nobel Prize in literature and generally considered the best of his later workRecommended 2018 I think people in the last couple of years have looked at this book and made comparisons with the current US president Not sure about that but what is noteworthy is Lewis' uncanny prediction in 1935 two years after Hitler rose to power about a populace willing to elect and support such a demagogue My own aversion to partisan politics blames our two party system for the late unpleasantness and calls to uestion the idea brought out by Lewis here about blind obedience

  4. says:

    I have always thought that if fascism ever came to America it would come clothed in red white and blue with patriotic songs and uotations from founding fathers It would be nationalistic It would extol military endeavors and elevate soldiers to the level of heroes It would handle the race uestion in subtle yet effective ways It would join forces with conservative Christian churches and begin to make life hard for anyone else It would give free reign to the rich the powerful and the political supports they enjoy It would ignore democratic ideals and replace them with a kind of Americanism that encourages love of country over love of people Make no mistake American fascism is possible with just the right rhetoric and influenceSinclair Lewis' book It Can't Happen Here portrays just such an America His distopia is set in the 1930s depression years during which extreme solutions to economic problems were abundant But if you think it can't happen here and now think again They won't call it fascism of course but we already have Americans who think this way

  5. says:

    “The conspicuous fault of the Jeffersonian Party like the personal fault of Senator Trowbridge was that it represented integrity and reason in a year when the electorate hungered for frisky emotions for the peppery sensations associated usually not with monetary systems and taxation rates but with baptism by immersion in the creek straight whisky angelic orchestras heard soaring down from the full moon fear of death when an automobile teeters above a canyon thirst in a desert and uenching it with spring water—all the primitive sensations which they thought they found in the screaming of Buzz Windrip LewisI only just now finished listening to over 14 hours of this book which I read for the first time and found amazing initially almost cartoonishly funny and slowly gradually scary and then at times turning to horrific It can happen here Lewis said in 1935 watching the rise of Hitler as Brecht said also in The Resistible Rise Arturo Ui and Orwell said in 1984 and so many others have written over the last several decades including Roth's The Plot Against America These stories exist because fascism is possible; some like Lewis in the thirties saw tendencies not only in Germany and Italy and Russia for the support of dictatorship but in America too in movements they saw toward isolationism xenophobia anti immigration nationalism and so on Lewis tells the story of a journalist and his family fighting Windrip and largely losing the fight though what he says against the politician makes so much sense to us We can't believe such a buffoon as Windrip would get elected and then turn his own military and media and government on not only his detractors but some of the very people who elected him on the basis of false promises against them I think Lewis had in mind Huey Long as a partial model for WindripI had read Lewis's Main Street and Elmer Gantry which I loved for their social satire his skewering of hypocrisy but in this book published after his much deserved Nobel Prize I think this just might be his greatest work As I said it started out as social satire where you smile and laugh a lot at his wit and then it actually turns out to be very moving in places Bravo Highly recommended It looks like a lot of people are reading anti fascist books now which is good This is a good one to consider in that bunch

  6. says:

    It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis is a 2014 Signet publication I’ll give you three guesses as to why this book showed up on my TBR list and two don’t count Originally published way back in 1935 Sinclair Lewis’s novel seemed to transcend time and is a constant reminder what can happen if we are too complacent or too timid to make our voice heard There is no need to go over the context of this timeless classic as it has been analyzed many times over by people far prolific than myself I don’t think one must be hit over the head with a brick to see the parallels of this book and our current political atmosphere in the US which is why there has been such a renewed interest in it recently If you haven’t read the book I hope you will consider doing so and if you have read it a second look at this stunning cautionary tale may be long overdue It should be noted that the story is dated and is meant to be satirical but the core lesson is one that remains as valuable today as it was when it was first written 4 stars

  7. says:

    Written in 1935 this novel has had a sudden resurgence due to world events which somehow seem eerily similar The story tells of the rise of the next President of the United Stated – Berzelius ‘Buzz’ Windrip mostly through the eyes of small town journalist Doremus Jessup there are some very unusual names in this novel his family and local community Obviously this novel was written during the time of rising fascism in Europe and the author has cleverly taken those events and the complacency of people to believe that dictators cannot happen ‘here’ wherever ‘here’ is So we have the bullying bluff pretend humble opinionated Buzz Windrip sound familiar whose every outrageous offensive comment is instantly forgiven by his adoring followers again as he pushes and shoves his way to the top with the help of a shadowy puppet master and a horde of thugs named the ‘Minute Men’Windrip is charismatic and power hungry; promising to restore the country to prosperity and greatness and assuring every ‘real’ citizen real by his definition obviously a sum of money from 3 5000 a year One of those hoping to benefit from these promises is Shad Ledre who works for Doremus Jessup Sly lazy and vicious he uses the new regime to rise to power and lord it over those who were nominally in charge before the changes For soon there is a new balance of power and attacks on academics the judiciary and the pressThis is a really thought provoking novel about listening to false promises and accepting those attacks on freedom which are taken for granted until they are no longer there It has a lot to discuss and is a perfect read for book groups particularly in the current political climate

  8. says:

    This extraordinary novel from 1935 predicts with uncanny accuracy the American political situation of 2016 and has authentic and frightening warnings Sinclair Lewis satirizes with biting humor the potential for America to fall to populist demagogues with nothing to say but what people want to hear and of the terrible conseuences of the people's naïvete A must read

  9. says:

    The first thing you might want to be clear about when you pick up this novel is that Sinclair Lewis is not Upton Sinclair Not many people realize this About a week after November 8th 2016 for example when I dutifully brought It Can't Happen Here up to a clerk at Barnes Noble luckily I didn't have to decide whether to look under 'L' or 'S' seemingly overnight without any overt explanation all manner of totalitarian literature had been put on prominent display throughout the store a convenience that saved me time and energy he remarked so you're reading this one and not Oil eh? It wasn't until I got back to my car that I realized his mistake Some may doubt my hypothesis but I'm certain they are two different people Well almost certain Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle which I read chapters of in high school US History class and Oil which was turned into a great movie with Daniel Day Lewis and ran for governor of California in 1934 while Sinclair Lewis wrote this book as well as no doubt many other novels that I'm probably not ever going to read Surely no single person could accomplish all of these things Adding to the confusion it turns out that Lewis and Sinclair knew each other and that Lewis gave Sinclair a unflattering guest appearance in this novelHaving gotten that out of the way let's speak frankly This is not a good novel Don't take it from me though Here's a uote from the introduction you know the part of the book that is at the very least probably not supposed to discourage you from reading Unfortunately the writing displays the haste in which he wrotemany reviewers complained about the novel's loose melodramatic plot flat and even corny characters weak cliched dialogue padded political discourse awkward sentimentality and heavy handed satire and irony Well I haven't been that motivated to start a book since the introduction to A Critiue of Pure Reason warned darkly that readers of the text tend to experience freuent thoughts of suicide As it turns out I agree with all of these criticisms Even the last hundred pages or so of the novel easily the best and darkest are still marked by plot improvisation scenes that seem sketched than carefully worked on dialogue filled with dashes ellipses and exclamation points mawkishness and awkward sentimental humor I don't doubt that people in forced labor camps are able to find humor in their situations but the narrator's jaunty remarks about the family dog's not being able to understand English following a scene of torture for example contribute to a jarring schizophrenic tone The novel's Afterword clarifies that the haste in which he wrote was from May to September of 1935 that is he wrote the entire novel in 5 months which explains a few things but also suggests the reason you might want to read this book anyway One reviewer I learned called it a vigorous antifascist tract if not much of a novel Another wrote in a formulation I'm not convinced has an actual meaning but I suppose I get it presumably referencing two of Lewis's former novels it is his worst book since Elmer Gantry; I think it is also and truly his best book since Arrowsmith A Marxist magazine called it a tremendously useful book And so on Point being that reviewers in general seem to have agreed that you read this book not for stylistic excellence but for its ideas which are worth thinking about Buzz Windrip for example yes that's the character's name just roll with it ranks pretty highly at least in the top hundred in the index of fictional dictators whom Donald Trump resembles most granted the list also includes characters who aren't technically dictators like Tony Soprano Windrip whom Lewis based at least in part on Huey Long as well as Mussolini and Hitler rises to power on a platform of economic populism one of his campaign promises for example is taken from Long's plan to seize all personal annual income in excess of 500000 for use by the federal government; it's made pretty clear incidentally that it's not so much that the working class who vote for Windrip and eventually get screwed of course are passionate about fascism but may be deluded about its true nature and hey the system hasn't been working so they might as well give someone unconventional a tryit's the lasting economic effects of the Great Depression however that really seem to give Windrip his opening xenophobia and a non specific mishmash of contradictory ideas and slogans; he has a hypnotic effect on crowds holding mass rallies at which he whips them into orgiastic frenzies of nationalism even if the people who go to the rallies never seem able to remember the details of what exactly he's said and maintains a symbiotic relationship with a guarded calculating shadowy advisor who plans everything from the shadows and who in turn needs Windrip's unconscious animal talent for demagoguery Lewis also has interesting things to say about the nature of fascism and the difficulties in responding to it One reason supporters of different political parties in Lewis's novel argue over minutiae instead of banding together to fight Windrip is that they lack the experience of fascism and treat it with fairness and less caution than it warrants Since they believe in fairness and making arguments in good faith they believe that at some level everyone else does as well But fascism is only a political position in the sense that someone coming up behind you in a bar and smashing a glass over your head is a form of argument A willingness to extend a fundamental decency and benefit of the doubt to opponents while an admirable uality may be a handicap when it comes to dealing with fascism and hints at why people like Marat Lenin or Mao were often brutal and autocratic than the governments they helped overthrow Fascism doesn't breed softness; it changes people and Lewis makes a point of demonstrating this through his characters He captures some of the identifying features of fascism sadism yes but it is also so cartoonish so self evidently absurd and stupid that it can be difficult to take seriously and it can be too late faster than you thinkThe title of the novel is not exactly subtle and just in case you didn't get it Lewis scatters straw men throughout the early chapters to guffaw in one case the exact words it can't happen here The natural instinct is to not let yourself be the same kind of sucker whistling past the graveyard But while it may be happening here in the US as well as in various stages in the Philippines Turkey Hungary Russia China and now Brazil and while Lewis's novel is prescient it's hard to imagine it happening in uite the way the novel describes; things seem even stranger and complex these days and the novel that imposes some sense of order on it all has perhaps not yet been written

  10. says:

    UPDATE Dorothy Thompson Sinclair Lewis's wife at the time wrote an article Who Goes Nazi? where she guesses which of her fellow Americans at a party would become Nazis if given the opportunity Well worth a read and a parlour game well worth revivingTo give you the flavour looks like Trump was at the party I think young D over there is the only born Nazi in the room Young D is the spoiled only son of a doting mother He has never been crossed in his life He spends his time at the game of seeing what he can get away with He is constantly arrested for speeding and his mother pays the fines He has been ruthless toward two wives and his mother pays the alimony His life is spent in sensation seeking and theatricality He is utterly inconsiderate of everybody He is very good looking in a vacuous cavalier way and inordinately vain He would certainly fancy himself in a uniform that gave him a chance to swagger and lord it over others There is no better time to read this book than right now except maybe for this time next yearThe story in Sinclair Lewis’ “It Couldn’t Happen Here” is a familiar one fascism comes to America through the ballot box and the path first trod by the Nazis is faithfully followedThese days we have learnt the lessons of history and look with suspicion at grandstanding debates and at political rallies filled with bright lights loud music and low level violence But in this age these are no than a diversion from the natural home of a new American fascismDifferent from the fascism of the Nazis a modern American fascism would be born not in the democratic process but rather in the law It would take its first steps far away from the noisy rallies and safe from the glare of public attention in the grey offices of corporate lobbyists and in the proceedings of dull committees A modern American fascism would be a tyranny of the legal opinion an oppression of the outsourcing contract a dictatorship of the draft regulationsIn dull back rooms mediocre lawyers would write legal opinions justifying torture and the majority of the public would support its use Police would be given legal powers to seize property on spurious grounds and retain it for their own enjoyment Canadian citizens would be warned by their state broadcaster not to travel with large amounts of money in the US In drab state courtrooms judges would supplement their salaries by sending innocent children to jail Prisons run for profit would be indistinguishable from concentration camps Inmates would be sentenced to decades in jail for trivial crimes where they would be forced to work to supply goods for nominal wages“It Couldn’t Happen Here” was extremely popular when it was first published so deserves recognition for the public debate it created in its time It would need a thorough re write before it could fulfil the same role in our complex and subtle but no less dangerous age