I recently read Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here. The novel appeared on Amazon.com's list of bestselling books after the 2016 USA presidential elections, along with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and, lower down the list, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Orwell's Animal Farm.

In an article in The New York Times Book Review titled "Reading the Classic Novel That Predicted Trump", professor Beverly Gage (who did not necessarily choose the article's title), wrote,

“It Can’t Happen Here” is a work of dystopian fantasy, one man’s effort in the 1930s to imagine what it might look like if fascism came to America. At the time, the obvious specter was Adolf Hitler, whose rise to power in Germany provoked fears that men like the Louisiana senator Huey Long or the radio priest Charles Coughlin might accomplish a similar feat in the United States. (...) In 1935, Lewis was trying to prevent the unthinkable: the election of a pseudo-fascist candidate to the presidency of the United States.

The persons mentioned in the book are partly real and historical—e.g. Huey Long, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Charles Coughlin—, partly fictional, e.g. the presidential candidates Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip (Democrate) and Walt Trowbridge (Republican).

The book mentions a number of persons, organisations, etc. that modern readers are usually not familiar with, such as OGPU (the Soviet Union's secret police at the time), Julius Streicher, Béla Kun, Salvemini (actually Gaetano Salvemini) and Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West.

The book also mentions many persons, organisations, etc. that non-American readers may not be familiar with, e.g. Frank Buchman, Lothrop Stoddard, the Townsend Plan, the NRA (no, not that other NRA), FERA, the YMHA, GAR, Caspar Milquetoast. The abbreviations are not expanded; many of the names are probably also unfamiliar to many American readers today.

The book also mentions many authors and book titles (novelists etc.); it is up to the reader to figure out how these names are relevant in the context where they are mentioned (which is almost impossible if you are not familiar with their works).

It is usually clear whether a name is fictional or not, especially if you know a bit about the history of English literature. Wikipedia can be a great help, but the lists of names can become really long, for example when in chapter 22, Lewis lists celebrities and journalists that get arrested: Raymond Moley, Frank Simonds, Frank Kent, Heywood Broun, Mark Sullivan (not identifiable on Wikipedia), Earl Browder, Franklin P. Adams, George Seldes, Frazier Hunt, Garet Garrett, Granville Hicks, Edwin James (presumably this one) and Robert Morss Lovett. This is a single enumeration on the same page (p. 219 in Penguin's 2017 reprint).

So there's a lot of name dropping and it is rather tedious to look up every unfamiliar or half-familiar name and book title just to make sure you aren't overlooking any hidden meanings and allusions. For this reason, I would like to know if there is an annotated edition of Sinclair Lewis's novel It Can't Happen Here that would meet the following criteria:

  • For every name, organisation or book title that is real, this should be mentioned. Readers can then safely assume that the other names are fictional.
  • For every author or book title where the content of the work would clarify something that is said in the book, the annotations should explain what information is relevant in that context. The same applies to politicians and the ideas they represented. E.g. who was Gaetano Salvemini (p. 202)?
  • If events described in the novel have a historical parallel in Nazi Germany, Mussolini's Italy or Stalin's Russia, this should be explained. For example, both a BBC journalist and a French journalist visiting the USA during Windrip's presidency note that the people are perfectly happy; they don't seem to know that the country has both labour camps and concentration camps, and they don't comment (or did not notice?) on racist policies.

Goodreads lists an annotated Kindle edition (ASIN: B00751IMZM), but I can't find a trace of it on Amazon, so I don't know whether it fits my criteria. (The Kindle version from Signet Classics doesn't appear to have annotations.)

1 Answer 1


At present, Amazon seems to have two annotated versions: one which is published in paperback (ISBN-10: 1980425523; ISBN-13: 978-1980425526), and one which is published for Kindle (ASIN: B075MGR281).


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