An American Childhood is basically exactly what it says on the can; it is the story of Annie Doak, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area between the end of World War Two and the start of the Cold War. As well as being Annie's own biography, it is also the biography of a city, and of a way of life, particularly in the upper-middle-class area that the Doak family comes from.
The Doaks are a fun couple; they encourage their daughter to follow her dreams and interests and they set her an example for this by following their own (her father sets off on a long boat expedition purely after reading about boat trips in a book). Annie's memories show us that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, in her case especially, as she collects interest after interest from voraciously reading books and deliberately developing her imagination.
Annie's childhood is also one of exploration - from the local library to her father's boat trips, she is always looking to learn something new. The post-war period also sees Pittsburgh start to expand, as the city begins to industrialize and the steel industry starts to take off. It's a period of growth, opportunity, and optimism, and the city is able to offer Annie a variety of experiences and a place to explore her interests. Annie also discovers a passion for nature and visits parks and forests in the area, where she learns about the natural environment and its importance. Her parents also encourage her to get involved in the community, and she joins a number of clubs, charities, and organizations that give her a platform to express her views and interests. Through her childhood, Annie grows into a well-rounded adult who is not afraid to explore and take risks.
Annie grows up in a predominantly well-to-do Presbyterian area of Pittsburgh, separate from the Catholic and Jewish areas - the area's inhabitants rarely mix, and by the time she finishes high school Annie growing tired of seeing the same group of people all the time and never being allowed to meet anyone remotely different from herself or her parents. Annie does nonetheless have a very pleasant and optimistic kind of childhood. At the end of the war, there was a period of prosperity and growth in America for the majority of people - most people did better then than they had done before, but there was also the threat of the Cold War, with most people so terrified of the countries that lurked behind the Iron Curtain, and the threat that they posed, that many families like Annie's built nuclear shelters in their backyard, and municipal ones sprang up all over the city.
Annie Dillard received a Pulitzer Prize for the first book that she published, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek", in 1974. She does not stay within one genre as a writer, producing poetry, prose, and travel writing. She was made a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999.