Ken Burns's America (2001)

Ken Burns America Book Cover
Ken Burns’s America is the first book-length study to comprehensively examine this innovative filmmaker as a television auteur, a pivotal programming influence within the industry, and a popular historian who portrays a uniquely singular and compelling version of the country’s past.

This volume’s three-fold agenda, first, delineates his personal influences, his distinctive and well-recognizable style, and the development and maturation of his ideological outlook, identifying those features that make him one of the most significant cultural voices on TV today.  Burns is next viewed as the owner and executive producer of his own independent production company operating on the periphery of public television’s institutional framework.  And, lastly, he is analyzed as a popular historian who reevaluates the nation’s historical legacy from a new generational perspective.

Ken Burns’s America. New York: Palgrave for St. Martin’s Press, 2001. (*Second Place in the 2008 John G. Cawelti Book Award).
Review from: 

Television Quarterly:

Gary Edgerton’s comprehensive critical analysis, Ken Burns’s America, examines how Burns became the iconic figure of the documentary and why his approach to history is so meaningful for a contemporary audience.  Edgerton, a professor and chair of the Communication and Theatre Arts Department at Old Dominion University, traces the evolution of the Burns ethos film by film, illuminating how his documentary craft matured with his historical vision . . . From the beginning Burns has been supported by a very talented group of film craftspeople.  Edgerton is exact in describing how this family grew into a major documentary force . . . Edgerton rightly reminds us that most Americans receive the lessons of history from television. No one has drawn the American public to the past as Ken Burns . . . Edgerton’s very accessible study of this nonfiction auteur is essential reading to understand how the television of the present can be a window into the past.

Communication Booknotes Quarterly: 

Ken Burns’s America by Gary R. Edgerton is the first book-length treatment of the man who is clearly one of the most important American documentary filmmakers . . . Edgerton has talked to the principal and many of his colleagues, has carefully screened the growing number of Florentine Films products, and has brought to bear considerable analytic talent to assess the place of Burns in both film and television.

Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly: 

Edgerton writes engagingly and with insight and his is an important study of a seminal figure—how Burns works, with whom, to what end.

Washington Post: 

A thoughtful midcareer portrait of Burns.

Time Out New York: 

Edgerton does an admirable job of taking the measure of the man.

Library Journal: 

Edgerton builds a compelling case that ‘Burns is arguably the most recognizable and influential historian of his generation, even though he does not have the traditional historian's scholarly background and education.


Absorbing  .  .  .  informative and probing book.