“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
About the Author
The son of a country doctor, Harry Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951) was born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. His childhood and early youth were spent in the Midwest, and later he attended Yale University, where he was editor of the literary magazine. After graduating in 1907, he worked as a reporter and in editorial positions at various newspapers, magazines, and publishing houses from the East Coast to California. He was able to give this work up after a few of his stories had appeared in magazines and his first novel, Our Mr. Wrenn (1914), had been published. Main Street (1920) was his first really successful novel, and his reputation was secured by the publication of Babbitt (1922). Lewis was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith (1925) but refused to accept the honor, saying the prize was meant to go to a novel that celebrated the wholesomeness of American life, something his books did not do. He did accept, however, when in 1930 he became the first American writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. During the last part of his life, he spent a great deal of time in Europe and continued to write both novels and plays. In 1950, after completing his last novel, World So Wide (1951), he intended to take an extended tour but became ill and was forced to settle in Rome, where he spent some months working on his poems before dying.
Michael Meyer, PhD, a professor of English at the University of Connecticut, previously taught at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the College of William and Mary. His scholarly articles have appeared in such periodicals as American Literature, Studies in the American Renaissance, and Virginia Quarterly Review. An internationally recognized authority on Henry David Thoreau, he is a former president of the Thoreau Society and the coauthor of The New Thoreau Handbook, a standard reference. His first book, Several More Lives to Live: Thoreau’s Political Reputation in America, was awarded the Ralph Henry Gabriel Prize by the American Studies Association. In addition to The Bedford Introduction to Literature, his edited volumes include Frederick Douglass: The Narrative and Selected Writings.
Gary Scharnhorst is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico, editor of American Literary Realism, and editor in alternating years of American Literary Scholarship.
Praise for It Can't Happen Here
“Written at white heat.”—Chicago Tribune
“Not only [Lewis's] most important book but one of the most important books ever produced in this country.”—The New Yorker