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The City on the Hill from Below
Discourse and Defiance under Nazi Occupation
Vigilantes and Lynch Mobs
The Image of the Enemy
Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste
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Legacies of the War on Poverty
Food Politics
American Pendulum
The Queen of Fats

Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American IdentityJohnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity

Leigh H. Edwards

Narrated by Beth Richmond

Available from Audible

Book published by Indiana University Press

Throughout his career, Johnny Cash has been depicted—and has depicted himself—as a walking contradiction: social protestor and establishment patriot, drugged wildman and devout Christian crusader, rebel outlaw hillbilly thug and elder statesman. Leigh H. Edwards explores the allure of this paradoxical image and its cultural significance. She argues that Cash embodies irresolvable contradictions of American identity that reflect foundational issues in the American experience, such as the tensions between freedom and patriotism, individual rights and nationalism, the sacred and the profane. She illustrates how this model of ambivalence is a vital paradigm for American popular music, and for American identity in general. Making use of sources such as Cash's autobiographies, lyrics, music, liner notes, and interviews, Edwards pays equal attention to depictions of Cash by others, such as Vivian Cash's publication of his letters to her, documentaries and music journalism about him, Walk the Line, and fan club materials found in the archives at the Country Music Foundation in Nashville, to create a full portrait of Cash and his significance as a cultural icon.

Leigh H. Edwards is Associate Professor of English at Florida State University. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

Beth Richmond (narrator) has narrated dozens of audiobooks for major companies.


“Edwards' exploration ... is nothing short of fascinating. The book provides in-depth analyses and challenges readers to think critically about 'Johnny Cash' (as well as Johnny Cash), a symbol that has been extremely important and influential in pop culture, but one that has not been widely written about as such.”

—Jason Buel, PopMatters

“[T]his volume is an important contribution to the theoretical literature connecting country music with the American character.... Recommended. ”


Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity is a tour de force of scholarship, analysis, and insight into the myth and meaning of The Man in Black. Given the relative paucity of academic investigation of Cash, the label 'definitive' carries a heavy burden. However, Leigh Edwards’ book will stand as the go-to source for understanding Cash’s transformation from popular singer to popular culture icon well into the foreseeable future. Displaying deft research skills, Edwards weaves numerous sources into a lucid account of Cash’s many roles, pulled together in an eminently readable account that will delight the singer’s millions of fans, as well as the growing scholarship on country music and its significance in American popular culture.”

—Bob Batchelor, Editor of Literary Cash: Unauthorized Writings Inspired by the Legendary Johnny Cash

The Man in Black embodied many of the contradictions that dot the American landscape. In this bold new study, Leigh Edwards explains how time, place, talent, and manhood made his legend. ”

—Toby Miller, author of Makeover Nation: The United States of Reinvention


Introduction: Cash as Contradiction

1. "What Is Truth?" Authenticity and Persona

2. "A Boy Named Sue": American Manhood

3. Gender and "The Beast in Me": Ramblers and Rockabillies

4. Race and Identity Politics

5. Man in Black: Class and National Mythologies

6. The Gospel Road: Cash as Saint and Sinner

Conclusion: "God's Gonna Cut You Down": Cultural Legacies

All titles are published by:
University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks