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John Dos Passos


John Dos Passos was born in Chicago in 1896. His mother was forty-eight at the time. His father was a wealthy lawyer of Portuguese origin. His parents did not marry till he was fourteen. He traveled a lot with his mother in the United States and Europe as a boy and was admitted to Harvard at the age of sixteen. He was soon interested in literature, particularly poetry, but also discovered two writers who were to be a major influence on him – James Joyce and Thorstein Velben. After Harvard he planned to join the volunteer ambulance service in France but his father persuaded him to study architecture in Spain which he did, till his father’s sudden death in 1917. He then volunteered and served in both France and Italy. He had also written the first draft of his first book.

After the war, he stayed in Europe, studying in France and traveling to other countries. He finished his second book – the anti-war Three Soldiers – which has been recognised as one of the more interesting novels to come out of World War I. He continued to travel in Europe and the United States, while working on the book which would bring him both literary and commercial fame – Manhattan Transfer. At this time he was increasingly getting involved in left-wing causes, such as the Sacco-Vanzetti case, and he visited the Soviet Union for several months.

The first volume of his major work, U.S.A. (The 42nd Parallel (1930); Nineteen Nineteen (1932); The Big Money (1936)), appeared in 1930. The following year Dos Passos and Theodore Dreiser were indicted for helping striking miners in Harlan County, Kentucky. In 1932, he supported the Communist Party candidate for president. However, his views were starting to change. He fell out with Hemingway and others over the Spanish Civil War and voted for Roosevelt in 1936. After U.S.A. (The 42nd Parallel (1930); Nineteen Nineteen (1932); The Big Money (1936)), his views not only became more right-wing but, it is generally agreed, the quality of his fiction writing declined markedly. He worked as a journalist in World War II and continued to write till his death in 1970. As well as novels, he wrote plays, poetry and works of non-fiction and also was a skilled painter.

Books about John Dos Passos

Virginia Carr: Dos Passos: A Life
Townsend Ludington: John Dos Passos: A Twentieth Century Odyssey

Other links

John Dos Passos
John Dos Passos
The Adventures of John Dos Passos
The Papers of John Dos Passos


1920 One Man’s Initiation-1917 (later: First Encounter)
1921 Three Soldiers
1922 A Pushcart at the Curb
1922 Rosinante to the Road Again
1923 Streets of Night
1925 Manhattan Transfer
1927 Facing the Chair: Story of the Americanization of Two Foreignborn Workmen
1927 Orient Express
1938 U.S.A. (The 42nd Parallel (1930); Nineteen Nineteen (1932); The Big Money (1936))
1943 Number One
1944 State of the Nation
1946 Tour of duty. Decorations by Howard Baer
1949 The Ground we Stand On
1949 The Grand Design
1951 Chosen Country
1952 District of Columbia (Adventures of a Young Man (1939); Number One (1943); The Grand Design (1949))
1954 The Head and Heart of Thomas Jefferson
1954 Most Likely to Succeed
1956 The Theme is Freedom
1957 The Men Who Made the Nation
1958 The Great Days
1959 Prospects of a Golden Age
1961 Midcentury
1962 Mr. Wilson’s War
1963 Brazil on the Move
1966 The Shackles of Power; Three Jeffersonian Decades
1966 The Best Times; An Informal Memoir
1969 The Portugal Story: Three Centuries of Exploration and Discovery
1969 One Man’s Initiation: 1917
1971 Easter Island: Island of Enigmas
1973 The Fourteenth Chronicle; Letters and Diaries of John Dos Passos
1975 Century’s Ebb : The Thirteenth Chronicle