Updated: May 21
American Dreams: Portraits & Stories of a Country by Ian Brown
Reviewed by L. Bennett
In 2006 author Ian Brown began a cross-county trip to ask people what was their American Dream. He had them write it down in their own words and handwriting and he snapped their pictures. He finished up just before Covid shutdowns. He managed to find people of different races living in divergent economic conditions, and from a variety of adult ages and occupations. He assembled his work into this book. On one page is a person's written description of the dream and opposite is their photograph.
Many people described an American Dream that was different from the stereotyped white picket fence, single-family dwelling in a suburb. A few said that was just too materialistic, many remarked that it was too white and middle class to be realistic, and others agreed with the premise of secure housing and clean surroundings even if the suburban lot was not to their liking. A few people wanted America to be gun-free and a few others wished all citizens be required to carry guns. Not everyone wanted to live in a city and not everyone wanted to live off the land, but everyone wanted peace, education, and equality.
In fact, it was the nearly universal desire for security and respect that was most moving. The written dreams of the people Brown spoke with are forceful, articulate, and evocative. This was a book that was a slow read because I took time to think about what people had said. I'm glad I read it and I believe I'll be thinking about American Dreams for quite some time to come.