John Dos Passos

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John Roderigo Dos Passos (b. January 14, 1896; - d. September 28, 1970[1]) was a highly influential American novelist best known for his trilogy of socio-historical novels, U.S.A., comprising The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). He also wrote Three Soldiers (1921), Manhattan Transfer (1925), and (in his conservative stage). District of Columbia (1952), a trilogy, and Midcentury (1961), as well as many histories, travel accounts and magazine articles.


The son of a wealthy American businessman of Portuguese heritage, Dos Passos attended Harvard College and was an ambulance driver during World War I. He traveled widely, especially in Mexico.


The USA trilogy was written from a leftist perspective and provides a kaleidoscopic portrait of America during the first three decades of the 20th century by capturing the voices of people from many walks of life. He used innovative techniques, such as "Camera Eyes" and "Newsreels" in addition to narratives and mini-biographies of real people, like Henry Ford.


By 1935 Dos Passos was disillusioned with Socialism and radicalism. He could not abide by the New Deal because it bureaucratized American life and accumulated too much power. He had become a conservative, and his novels—always political—took the perspective from traditional conservatism, with a hostility toward labor unions and Communism. A close friend of Ernest Hemingway, they became enemies when Hemingway refused to see the evils of the Communists in the Spanish Civil War. He read closely in the Founding Fathers for inspiration, and wrote extensively for the National Review.

Further reading

  • Carr, Virginia Spencer. John Dos Passos: A Life (1984), 624pp, excessively detailed
  • Clark, Michael. Dos Passos's Early Fiction, 1912-1938 (1987) online edition
  • Kazin, Alfred. "John Dos Passos and His Invention of America," Wilson Quarterly 1985 9(1): 154-166
  • Levin, Harry. "Revisiting Dos Passos' 'U.S.S'," Massachusetts Review 1979 20(3): 401-415
  • Ludington, Townsend. John Dos Passos: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey (1998), good biography excerpt and text search
  • Maine, Barry. John Dos Passos: The Critical Heritage (1997) online edition
  • Pizer, Donald. Dos Passos' 'U.S.A.:' A Critical Study (1988)
  • Wagner, Linda W. Dos Passos: Artist as American (1979)
  • online books and articles from Questia

Primary sources

  • Dos Passos, John. John Dos Passos: Travel Books and Other Writings 1916-1941 (Library of America, 2003)
  • Dos Passos, John. One Man's Initiation (1917) online edition
  • Dos Passos, John. Three Soldiers (1921) online edition
  • Dos Passos, John. U.S.A. (3 vol. 1925-37) online edition
  • Dos Passos, John. Number One, a Novel (1943) online edition
  • Dos Passos, John. The Theme Is Freedom (1956) online edition
  • Dos Passos, John. The Men Who Made the Nation: The architects of the young republic 1782-1802 (1995), nonfiction
  • Dos Passos, John. The Head and Heart of Thomas Jefferson (1964), nonfiction
  • Dos Passos, John. Mr. Wilson's War: The Story of American Participation in World War I (1962), nonfiction
  • The Fourteenth Chronicle: Letters and Diaries of John Dos Passos, ed. by Townsend Ludington (1973)