Best American Books, part 1

   

I have concentrated on books that have been popular over the years, books that have had an impact on society, books that have resounded in our thoughts, words, and actions. Books can influence a whole nation even if only a small number of people have read these books. Ideas spread like Twitter at a football match. These are the books that have shaped the American national identity. The books listed are a variety of  fiction, non-fiction, and auto/biography, but mostly fiction. They are in alphabetical order, not according to how valuable they are.

 

Book cover Farewell to armsA FAREWELL TO ARMS

Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms is a novel written by Ernest Hemingway set during the Italian campaign of World War I. The book, published in 1929, is a first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a Lieutenant (“Tenente”) in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army.

A Farewell to Arms focuses on a romance between the expatriate American Henry and an English V.A.D. cadre, Catherine Barkley, against the backdrop of the First World War, cynical soldiers, fighting and the displacement of populations. The publication of this, Hemingway’s bleakest novel, cemented his stature as a modern American writer, became his first best-seller, and is described by biographer Michael Reynolds as “the premier American war novel from that debacle [World War I]”.

BOOK COVER HUCK FINNADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN

Mark Twain

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a children’s novel based on a young teenage boy called Huckleberry Finn who is raised by an alcoholic father and has difficulties in socializing with society. It was first published in 1884. This book is also the sequel to the book called “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”.

After staging his death and running away, Huck meets up with Jim, a runaway slave from the village. They decide to travel down the river together. Both of them are running away to gain their freedom: Jim from slavery, Huck from his father’s abuse and the Widow Douglas’s restrictive lifestyle (although Huck does not see it that way yet). For a major part of their journey together, Huck views Jim as property.
Jim becomes a father figure–the first Huck ever had in his life. Jim teaches Huck right and wrong, and an emotional bond develops through the course of their journey down the river. By the last segment of the novel, Huck has learned to think like a man instead of a boy. Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most celebrated novels in American literature–arguably the greatest novel in American literature.

 

book cover for AnthemANTHEM

Ayn Rand
Anthem was written by Ayn Rand and first published in 1938. In Anthem, Rand examines a frightening future in which individuals have no name, no independence, and no values. Equality 7-2521 lives in the dark ages of the future where all decisions are made by committee, all people live in collectives, and all traces of individualism have been wiped out.

Despite such a restrictive environment, the spark of individual thought and freedom still burns in him–a passion which he has been taught to call sinful.

In a purely egalitarian world, Equality 7-2521 dares to stand apart from the herd–to think and choose for himself, to discover electricity, and to love the woman of his choice. Now he has been marked for death for committing the ultimate sin. In a world where the great “we” reign supreme, he has rediscovered the lost and holy word – “I”. ‘

 

 

HP LOVECRAFT BOOKAT THE MOUNTAIN OF MADNESS

H.P. Lovecraft

One of H.P. Lovecraft’s most chilling works, it draws on Edgar Allan Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, as well as Lovecraft’s deep fascination with the Antarctic. The sinister discoveries made by a group of explorers in At the Mountains of Madness are testament to the author’s enormous powers of imagination.

On an expedition to Antarctica, Professor William Dyer and his colleagues discover the remains of ancient half-vegetable, half-animal life-forms. The extremely early date in the geological strata is surprising because of the highly-evolved features found in these previously unknown life-forms. Through a series of dark revelations, violent episodes, and misunderstandings, the group learns of Earth’s secret history and legacy.

 

Anthony Adverse bookANTHONY ADVERSE

Hervey Allen

The plot of the epic costume drama follows the globe-trotting adventures of the title character, the illegitimate offspring of Maria Bonnyfeather, the bride of the cruel and devious middle-aged nobleman Marquis Don Luis, and Denis Moore. After he learns of his wife’s affair, Don Luis takes her away but Denis tracks them down at an inn, where Don Luis kills him in a duel of swords. Months later Maria dies giving birth to her son at a chalet in the Alps.

Don Luis leaves the infant at a convent near Leghorn, Italy, (where the nuns christen him Anthony) and lies to Maria’s father, wealthy merchant John Bonnyfeather, telling him that the infant is also dead. Ten years later, completely by coincidence, the child is apprenticed to Bonnyfeather, his real grandfather, who discovers his relationship to the boy but keeps it a secret from him. He gives the boy the surname Adverse in acknowledgement of the difficult life he has led.

 

atlas shrugged book coverATLAS SHRUGGED

Ayn Rand

This is the story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world—and did. Was he a destroyer or the greatest of liberators? Why did he have to fight his battle, not against his enemies, but against those who needed him most, and his hardest battle against the woman he loved? What is the world’s motor—and the motive power of every man? You will know the answer to these questions when you discover the reason behind the baffling events that play havoc with the lives of the characters in this story.

Tremendous in its scope, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life—from the productive genius who becomes a worthless playboy—to the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own destruction—to the philosopher who becomes a pirate—to the composer who gives up his career on the night of his triumph—to the woman who runs a transcontinental railroad—to the lowest track worker in her Terminal tunnels.

You must be prepared, when you read this novel, to check every premise at the root of your convictions. This is a mystery story, not about the murder—but rebirth—of man’s spirit. It is a philosophical revolution, told in the form of an action thriller of violent events, a ruthlessly brilliant plot structure and an irresistible suspense. Do you say this is impossible? Well, that is the first of your premises to check.

 

BelovedBELOVED
Toni Morrison
Beloved is a novel by the American writer Toni Morrison. Set after the American Civil War (1861–1865), it is inspired by the story of an African-American slave, Margaret Garner, who temporarily escaped slavery during 1856 in Kentucky by fleeing to Ohio, a free state. A posse arrived to retrieve her and her children under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave slave owners the right to pursue slaves across state borders. Margaret killed her two-year-old daughter rather than allow her to be recaptured.

Beloved’s main character, Sethe, kills her daughter and tries to kill her other three children when a posse arrives in Ohio to return them to Sweet Home, the plantation in Kentucky from which Sethe recently fled. A woman presumed to be her daughter, called Beloved, returns years later to haunt Sethe’s home at 124 Bluestone Road, Cincinnati. The story opens with an introduction to the ghost: “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.”

The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. It was adapted during 1998 into a movie of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey. During 2006 a New York Times survey of writers and literary critics ranked it as the best work of American fiction of the past 25 years.

 

 

Berlin diaryBERLIN DIARY
William L. Shirer
A radio broadcaster and journalist, William Shirer was new to the world of broadcast journalism when he began keeping a diary while in Europe during the 1930s. It was in 1940, still a virtual unknown, that Shirer wondered whether his reminiscences of the collapse of the world around Nazi Germany could be of any interest or value as a book. Shirer’s Berlin Diary, which is considered the first full record of what was happening in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich, first appeared in 1941.

The book was an instant success. But how did Shirer get such a valuable firsthand account? He had anonymous sources willing to speak with him, provided their identity remained protected and disguised so as to avoid retaliation from the Gestapo. Shirer recorded his and others’ eyewitness views to the horror that Hitler was inflicting on his people in his effort to conquer Europe.

Shirer continued his job as a foreign correspondent and radio reporter for CBS until Nazi press censors made it virtually impossible for him to do his job with any real accuracy. He left Europe, taking with him the invaluable, unforgettable (and horrific) contents of his Berlin Diary. Berlin Diary brings the reader as close as any reporter has ever been to Hitler and the rise of the Third Reich. Shirer’s honest, lucid and passionate reporting of the brutality with which Hitler came to power and the immediate reactions of those who witnessed these events is for all time.

 

BILLY BATHGATE

E.L. Doctorow

To open this book is to enter the perilous, thrilling world of Billy Bathgate, the brazen boy who is accepted into the inner circle of the notorious Dutch Schultz gang. Like an urban Tom Sawyer, Billy takes us along on his fateful adventures as he becomes good-luck charm, apprentice, and finally protégé to one of the great murdering gangsters of the Depression-era underworld in New York City.

The luminous transformation of fact into fiction that is E. L. Doctorow’s trademark comes to triumphant fruition in Billy Bathgate, a peerless coming-of-age tale and one of Doctorow’s boldest and most beloved bestsellers.

 

 

cover bury my heartBURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE

Dee Brown

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by American writer Dee Brown is a history of Native Americans in the American West in the late nineteenth century that expresses a Native American perspective of the injustices and betrayals of the US government.
Brown portrays the government’s dealings as continued efforts to destroy the culture, religion, and way of life of Native American peoples in describing the people’s displacement through forced relocations and years of warfare waged by the United States federal government. Dee Brown’s eloquent, meticulously documented account of the systematic destruction of the American Indian became a publishing phenomenon when first published in 1970.
This is a heart-breaking story of betrayal and struggle by the Indians to survive. Fascinating and moving on page after page.

 

CANNERY ROW BOOK COVERCANNERY ROW

John Steinbeck

Cannery Row takes place on a street lined with sardine fisheries in Monterey known as Cannery Row. It revolves around the people living there during the Great Depression: Lee Chong, the local grocer; Doc, a marine biologist based on Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts; and Mack, the leader of a group of bums.
The actual location Steinbeck was writing about, Ocean View Avenue in Monterey, was later renamed “Cannery Row” in honor of the book.
Cannery Row has a simple premise: Mack and his friends are trying to do something nice for their friend Doc, who has been nice to them without asking for reward. Mack hits on the idea that they should throw a thank-you party, and the entire community quickly becomes involved. Unfortunately, the party rages out of control, and Doc’s lab and home are ruined—and Doc’s mood. In an effort to return to Doc’s good graces, Mack and the boys decide to throw another party—but to make it work this time.
A procession of linked vignettes describes the denizens’ lives on Cannery Row. These constitute subplots that unfold concurrently with the main plot. Steinbeck revisited these characters and this milieu nine years later in his novel Sweet Thursday. The whole novel is one hilarious event after another. Good fun!

 

CAT'S CRADLE BOOK COVERCat’s Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny.
A book that left an indelible mark on an entire generation of readers, Cat’s Cradle is one of the twentieth century’s most important works—and Vonnegut at his very best.

 

 

COUPLES, BOOK COVERCOUPLES

John Updike

An intoxicating yet sensitive novel about the sexual experiences of ten couples from Tarbox, New England. Well-to-do, sociable, articulate but dangerously unfulfilled; they play word games in the evening and adultery all year round.
This book was quite controversial when first published. It became a best seller, but underneath the sexy surface is well-crafted, intelligent novel.

 

 

 

 

DESPATCHES BOOK COVERDISPATCHES

Michael Herr

Dispatches is a New Journalism book by Michael Herr that describes the author’s experiences in Vietnam as a war correspondent for Esquire magazine. First published in 1977, Dispatches was one of the first pieces of American literature that allowed Americans to understand the experiences of soldiers in the Vietnam War. At a time when many veterans would say little about their experiences during the war, Dispatches allowed for an experience and understanding of the war like no other source to date.
The book is noted for a visceral, literary style which distinguishes it from more mundane and accurate historical accounts.
Featured in the book are fellow war correspondents Sean Flynn and Dana Stone and Dale Dye and the photojournalist Tim Page. Only at the end does Herr mention that the first two were captured and presumed dead.

 

DUNE

Frank Herbert

The Duke of Atreides has been manoeuvred by his arch-enemy, Baron Harkonnen, into administering the desert planet of Dune. Although it is almost completely without water, Dune is a planet of fabulous wealth, for it is the only source of a drug prized throughout the Galactic Empire.
The Duke and his son, Paul, are expecting treachery, and it duly comes — but from a shockingly unexpected place. Then Paul succeeds his father, and he becomes a catalyst for the native people of Dune, whose knowledge of the ecology of the planet gives them vast power. They have been waiting for a leader like Paul Atreides, a leader who can harness that force . . .
DUNE: one of the most brilliant science fiction novels ever written, as engrossing and heart-rending today as it was when it was first published half a century ago.

 

East of Eden book coverEAST OF EDEN

John Steinbeck

Set in the rich farmland of the Salinas Valley, California, this powerful, often brutal novel, follows the intertwined destinies of two families – the Trasks and the Hamiltons – whose generations hopelessly re-enact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.
Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

 

ELMER GANTRY

Sinclair Lewis

Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis The novel tells the story of a young, narcissistic, womanizing college athlete who abandons his early ambition to become a lawyer. The legal profession does not suit the unethical Gantry, who then becomes a notorious and cynical alcoholic.
Gantry is mistakenly ordained as a Baptist minister, briefly acts as a “New Thought” evangelist, and eventually becomes a Methodist minister. He acts as manager for Sharon Falconer, an itinerant evangelist. Gantry becomes her lover but loses both her and his position when she is killed in a fire at her new tabernacle.

 

 

Fahrenheit 451 book coverFARENHEIGHT 451

Ray Bradbury

The hauntingly prophetic classic novel set in a not-too-distant future where books are burned by a special task force of firemen. Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness.
Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
The Classic novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 is part of the Voyager Classic series. It stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity. Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which, forty years on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.

 

Fear of flying book coverFEAR OF FLYING

Erica Jong

Bored with her marriage, a psychoanalyst’s wife embarks on a wild, life-changing affair. Isadora Wing has come to a crossroads in her marriage: Should she and her husband stay together or get divorced? Accompanying her husband to an analysts’ conference in Vienna, she ditches him and strikes out on her own, crisscrossing Europe in search of a man who can inspire uninhibited passion. But, as she comes to learn, liberation and happiness are not necessarily the same thing.
A literary sensation when first published in 1973, Fear of Flying established Erica Jong as one of her generation’s foremost voices on sex and feminism. Nearly four decades later, the novel has lost none of its insight, verve, or jaw-dropping wit.

 

For whom the bell tolls, coverFOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

Ernest Hemingway

In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from “the good fight,” For Whom the Bell Tolls. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an anti-fascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal.
In his portrayal of Jordan’s love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo’s last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving and wise.
“If the function of a writer is to reveal reality,” Maxwell Perkins wrote to Hemingway after reading the manuscript, “no one ever so completely performed it.” Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author’s previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time.

 

from here to eternity--FROM HERE TO ETERNITY

James Jones

James Jones’s epic story of army life in the calm before Pearl Harbor—now with previously censored scenes and dialogue restored.
At the Pearl Harbor army base in 1941, Robert E. Lee Prewitt is Uncle Sam’s finest bugler. A career soldier with no patience for army politics, Prewitt becomes incensed when a commander’s favorite wins the title of First Bugler. His indignation results in a transfer to an infantry unit whose commander is less interested in preparing for war than he is in boxing. But when Prewitt refuses to join the company team, the commander and his sergeant decide to make the bugler’s life hell.
An American classic now available with scenes and dialogue considered unfit for publication in the 1950s, From Here to Eternity is a stirring picture of army life in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

 

Giant, book coverGIANT

Edna Ferber

This sweeping tale captures the essence of Texas on a staggering scale as it chronicles the life and times of cattleman Jordan “Bick” Benedict, his naive young society wife, Leslie, and three generations of land-rich sons. A sensational story of power, love, cattle barons, and oil tycoons, Giant was the basis of the classic film starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson.

 

 

 

Goddess, cover of bookGODDESS

Anthony Summers

She was born Norma Jeane but the world knew and loved her as Marilyn Monroe. Her life was one of unprecedented fame and private misery, her death a tragedy surrounded by mysteries.
Drawing on first-hand interviews Anthony Summers offers both a classic biography and a shockingly revealing account of the screen goddess’s relations with John and Robert Kennedy. ‘The definitive story of the legend …more convincing at every page – told with all the coldness of truth and the authority of the historian, but at the end of it we still love Marilyn’ [Maeve Binchy, Irish Times].

 

 

Gone with the wind book coverGONE WITH THE WIND

Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind is a 1936 American novel by Margaret Mitchell set in the Old South during the American Civil War and Reconstruction.
The novel won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into an Academy Award-winning 1939 film of the same name.

It is the only novel by Mitchell published during her lifetime, and it took her ten years to write it. The novel is one of the most popular books of all time, selling more than 30 million copies.

 

 

Howl, cover of bookHOWL

Allen Ginsberg

Beat movement icon and visionary poet, Allen Ginsberg broke boundaries with his fearless, pyrotechnic verse.
This new collection brings together the famous poems that made his name as a defining figure of the counterculture. They include the apocalyptic ‘Howl’, which became the subject of an obscenity trial when it was first published in 1956; the moving lament for his dead mother, ‘Kaddish’; the searing indictment of his homeland, ‘America’; and the confessional ‘Mescaline’.
Dark, ecstatic and rhapsodic, they show why Ginsberg was one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century.
‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked’

 

book coverHOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES

Jacob Riis
(May 3, 1849 May 26, 1914) is best known as a social reformer who used photography to document different social classes. In particular, his journalism and photography displayed the plight of the poor in New York City, and his attempt to help them resulted in How the Other Half Lives, a turn of the century documentary of sorts that he hoped would shed light on the social issues of the day.
Moreover, Riis is considered one of the fathers of photography due to his discovery of flash photos. Although Riis is best known for his social commentary, he also made important connections through his work, including with Teddy Roosevelt, a New York politician before president. work.

 

 

 

how to stop worrying, coverHOW TO STOP WORRYING AND START LIVING

Dale Carnegie

With Dale Carnegie’s timeless advice in hand, more than six million people have learned how to eliminate debilitating fear and worry from their lives and to embrace a worry-free future. In this classic work, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Carnegie offers a set of practical formulas that you can put to work today.
It is a book packed with lessons that will last a lifetime and make that lifetime happier!

 

 

 

book coverHOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE

Dale Carnegie

Millions of people around the world have – and continue to – improve their lives based on the teachings of Dale Carnegie. In How to Win Friends and Influence People Carnegie offers practical advice and techniques, in his exuberant and conversational style, for how to get out of a mental rut and make life more rewarding.
Published in 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People is still a popular book in business and Business Communication skills. Dale Carnegie’s four part book is packed with advice to create success in business and personal lives. How to Win Friends and Influence People is a tool used in Dale Carnegie Training and includes the following parts: Part One: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People Part Two: Six Ways to Make People Like You Part Three: How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking Part Four: Be a Leader – How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

 

cover of book

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s six volumes of autobiography are a testament to the talents and resilience of this extraordinary writer. Loving the world, she also knows its cruelty. As a Black woman she has known discrimination and extreme poverty, but also hope, joy, achievement and celebration.
In this first volume of her six books of autobiography, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in the American south of the 1930s. She learns the power of the white folks at the other end of town and suffers the terrible trauma of rape by her mother’s lover. ‘I write about being a Black American woman, however, I am always talking about what it’s like to be a human being. This is how we are, what makes us laugh, and this is how we fall and how we somehow, amazingly, stand up again’ Maya Angelou

 

 

In cold blood, coverIN COLD BLOOD

Truman Capote

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.
As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

 

 

invisible man book coverINVISIBLE MAN

Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952. A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century.
The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky.

 

cover KinflicksKINFLICKS

Lisa Alther

Growing up in Tennessee in a family of privilege, Ginny Babcock’s world is seemingly idyllic. Her father, the Major, runs the local plant—and, thus, the town—and her mother works on beloved home movies, or “kinflicks,” as her children call them, documenting the quintessential moments of her children growing up.
But her mother’s camera isn’t there to capture Ginny’s growing rebellion against her prim Southern upbringing. From her backseat exploits as a popular high schooler, to her late night adventures at the moonshine joint with a greaser boyfriend, to her passionate days with a lover at the militant feminist commune in Vermont, Ginny throws herself into the moment—until, finally, she must return home and look after her ailing mother.
Funny, wise, and filled with unforgettable characters, Kinflicks is a captivating novel that draws on the human fallout of turbulent times.

 

Leaves of grass book coverLEAVES OF GRASS

Walt Whitman

Though the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent his entire life writing Leaves of Grass, revising it in several editions until his death. Among the poems in the collection are “Song of Myself”, “I Sing the Body Electric”, and in later editions, Whitman’s elegy to the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”. book cover, Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
This book is notable for its discussion of delight in sensual pleasures during a time when such candid displays were considered immoral. Where much previous poetry, especially English, relied on symbolism, allegory, and meditation on the religious and spiritual, Leaves of Grass (particularly the first edition) exalted the body and the material world.
Influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement, itself an offshoot of Romanticism, Whitman’s poetry praises nature and the individual human’s role in it. However, much like Emerson, Whitman does not diminish the role of the mind or the spirit; rather, he elevates the human form and the human mind, deeming both worthy of poetic praise.

   

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