The great waves of Italian immigration to the United States (from the end of the nineteenth century to the period after World War II) were not intellectual migrations. This book examines the histories of such inconsequential people, “undistinguished Americans” as Hamilton Holt called them in 1906, a moment when the immigrant wave was rolling into full force. It was only in 2005, after a century of optimism, that Scott Sandage admitted, in his study of unsuccessful people, “Deadbeats tell not tales, it seems”—although he went on to show how these sources are all too common, if one can only bear to listen to them. Holt and Sandage are in tune with an important premise for this book: people are accustomed to reading remarkable tales about brilliant lives and fortuitous chains of events. The stories of immigrants enlarge the genre of autobiography to provide a truer cross section of the immigrant Italian Americans and their individual histories, struggles, and dreams.
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