by Jim Cullen, author of Born in the U.S.A., on one of the quintessiential modern American icons: Bruce Springsteen.

By embodying the spirit of a time and place, an icon is a highly compressed portrait in which the values of many are represented in an individual figure. The animating energy of that portrait is grounded less in history than in myth, which I define as widely held beliefs that cannot be empirically confirmed or denied. I wrote a book about Bruce Springsteen not because he documents the realities of late twentieth century life (though in some ways he surely does), but because I feel he represents--in his life as well as his work--what Abraham Lincoln once called "the better angels of our natures." From his depiction of the American Dream to the largely unconscious religiosity that suffuses his songs, I consider him an icon for our time, and wanted to make a case for him as such within the broader sweep of U.S. history.

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  Icons, as Joe Kanon says in his essay, "make us think, and reflect something back about ourselves." They are cultural signifiers, loudly proclaiming what society aspires to or abhors. One can glean a wealth of information about a people by studying whom among them ascends to the level of icon. Originally icons were religious paintings--flat, perspectiveless, one-dimensional images, yet as sacred as the saints they represented, Today's icons are more often from the worlds of entertainment and politics. The icon strikes a chord within us because we see in them our hopes, fears, and dreams: projections of ourselves, in which, often unknowingly, we see ourselves reflected back. Larger-than-life cultural mirrors, icons make attractive subjects for writers. From the Bible to the tragedies of Shakespeare on through to today's blockbuster celebrity biographies, readers have sought understanding of icons through the book.

Bold Type this month engages this new iconography--the iconography of popular heros--with a look at some important American icons through the eyes (and the pens) of several very talented writers. For many, John Wayne--the Duke--defined American manhood. In a phenomenal first book, John Wayne: A Novel, Dan Barden examines his family's relationship to John Wayne, and in doing so, gives a surprisingly fresh perspective on a man we all thought we already knew. Laurence Bergreen's Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life shows us the man behind the trumpet. In this thorough and provocative biography, Louis Armstrong comes through loud and clear as person who embraced life fully. Joe Kanon's World War II thriller Los Alamos isn't really about Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who presided over the making of the first atomic bomb, but he looms large in the story nonetheless. In an insightful essay, Kanon discusses what it was like to fictionalize an historical figure like Oppenheimer. Finally, Gary Indiana's novel Resentment is a blackly humorous and sardonic look romp through star-obsessed southern California. In an essay examining the darker side of icons, Gary ponders the way in which our culture of stardom turns criminals into celebrities.

Don't forget to check out the Back of the Book for essays and book excerpts on the big three: Stalin, Churchill, and Kurt Cobain.
Next month's theme is THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER, so bookmark Bold Type and stop again for more exciting writing (and some cool photos of authors with their dogs).

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Larry Weissman and Maia Gemmill
Bold Type Editors