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Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy


“Fascinating . . . An admirably lucid, level-headed history of outbreaks of joy from Dionysus to the Grateful Dead.”—Terry Eagleton, The Nation

Widely praised as “impressive” (The Washington Post Book World), “ambitious” (The Wall Street Journal), and “alluring” (The Los Angeles Times), Dancing in the Streets explores a human impulse that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing.

Drawing on a wealth of history and anthropology, Barbara Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture. From the earliest orgiastic Mesopotamian rites to the medieval practice of Christianity as a “danced religion” and the transgressive freedoms of carnival, she demonstrates that mass festivities have long been central to the Western tradition. In recent centuries, this festive tradition has been repressed, cruelly and often bloodily. But as Ehrenreich argues in this original, exhilarating, and ultimately optimistic book, the celebratory impulse is too deeply ingrained in human nature ever to be completely extinguished.


Advance Praise for Dancing in the Streets

"Ehrenreich writes with grace and clarity in a fascinating, wide-ranging and generous account."
Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

"A serious look at communal celebrations, well documented and presented with assurance and flair."
Kirkus Reviews

"Barbara Ehrenreich shows how and why people celebrate together, and equally what causes us to fear celebration. Here is the other side of ritual, whose dark side she explored in Blood Rites. Ranging in time from the earliest festivals depicted on cave walls to modern football crowds, Ehrenreich finds that dancing has been a way to address personal ills like melancholy and shame, and social ills as extreme as those faced by American slaves. Dancing in the Streets is itself a celebration of language—clear, funny, unpredictable. This is a truly original book."
—Richard Sennett, author of The Culture of the New Capitalism

"A fabulous book on carnival and ecstasy, skillfully arranged and brilliantly explained." —Robert Farris Thompson, author of Tango: The Art History of Love

"The same brave, brilliant writing that Ehrenreich has always used to expose the dark underside of human nature, she now employs to illuminate sources of communal joy and bonding that we as a society have historically denied and continue to sweep under the rug. Tracing the long history of Europe’s fight against its better impulses, she ends with the return of the repressed—the rock rebellions of the 1960’s, the carnivalesque that often pervades protest movements—as she joyously draws ecstasy out of its hiding places and urges us to let it back into our lives."
—Wendy Doniger, author of The Woman Who Pretended To Be Who She Was

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