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Hotel Life: The Story of a Place Where Anything Can Happen

Matthew Pratt Guterl

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What is a hotel? As Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl show us in this thought-provoking book, even though hotels are everywhere around us, we rarely consider their essential role in our modern existence and how they help frame our sense of who and what we are. They are, in fact, as centrally important as other powerful places like prisons, hospitals, or universities. More than simply structures made of steel, concrete, and glass, hotels are social and political institutions that we invest with overlapping and contradictory meaning. These alluring places uniquely capture the realities of our world, where the lines between public and private, labor and leisure, fortune and failure, desire and despair are regularly blurred. Guiding readers through the story of hotels as places of troublesome possibility, as mazelike physical buildings, as inspirational touchstones for art and literature, and as unsettling, even disturbing, backdrops for the drama of everyday life, Levander and Guterl ensure that we will never think about this seemingly ordinary place in the same way again.


Matthew Pratt Guterl is the L. Herbert Ballou University Professor of Africana Studies and American Studies at Brown University. Born and raised in central New Jersey, Guterl earned his BA degree from Richard Stockton University in 1993, and his PhD in History from Rutgers University in 1999. He was the winner of the 2010 Mary C. Turpie Prize, given by the American Studies Association, for distinguished teaching, service, and program development in that field. He is also a Rutgers 250 Distinguished Alumni, a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from Richard Stockton University, an OAH Distinguished Lecturer, and received the President’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Governance at Brown. As an award-winning historian, Guterl has also written The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940, American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation, Seeing Race in Modern America, and Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe. Guterl has also co-authored, with Caroline Levander, a book on the social meaning of the modern hotel titled Hotel Life.

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