John Dos Passos was an American writer born on January 14, 1896 in Chicago, Illinois. As a child, he grew up in a rather privileged household considering he had personal tutors and attended boarding school. His family encouraged a worldly knowledge of art and culture, so Dos Passos was well-traveled and knowledgeable at a young age. After graduating high school, he enrolled at Harvard University and later travelled to Europe to do volunteer work. He was heavily involved in the American Red Cross as well as the U.S. Army Medical Corps, dedicating his time to what he felt was a higher cause. Dos Passos wrote often in between jobs, leading to the publication of his first novel entitled One Man's Initiation in 1920. This novel, as well as many of his future works, would deal with the politics and legitimacy of war.
In 1930, Dos Passos published The 42nd Parallel, the first part to his U.S.A. trilogy. The success of the first novel led to two more installments, 1919 and The Big Money, respectively. The series tells the story of twelve different individuals of varying economic status at the start of the 20th century and during the World War I era. For the most part, the trilogy reflects a defeatist attitude toward social and political conditions in the United States.
Upon the conclusion of the series, U.S.A. received glowing reviews for its provocative depiction of Americans’ lives during the war. Robert McCrum of The Guardian states that “the momentum is relentless, the reportage vivid and brilliant. U.S.A. is as jerky and authentic as an old newsreel, and just as much of its time.” After USA, Dos Passos wrote several other novels, some of which are Tour of Duty (1946), The Ground We Stand On (1949), District of Columbia (1952), Chosen Country (1951), Most Likely to Succeed (1954), The Head and Heart of Thomas Jefferson (1954), and The Theme Is Freedom (1956). His long literary career was cut short when he died on September 28, 1970 at age 74.