And in one vein, it could be. For it contains all that we are: idealism, snake oil, industry, architecture, design, advertising, pop art, celebrity and the exuberant sense of national adolescence that has both made America so exceptional and gotten it into so much hot water.
If you sweep aside legitimate questions about how far consumerism can and should go, "Iconic America" is a lovely book — the kind for which coffee tables were invented. Leaf through the pages of loving photography and clean, sans-serif capsule biographies of each object and you feel ... well, American.
Rarely has an Underwood No. 5 typewriter, scourge of so many 20th-century secretaries, looked so appealing as it does in this computer-age volume. Rarely have two photographs of faces on facing pages — in a joke wig and in his "god-awful platinum-blonde fright-wig" — so bookended an entire era.
And rarely have three curiously juxtaposed images said so much about America as the photos on page 298 and 299: An "all-American" boy consuming a hamburger and a Coke while, thanks to Photoshop, he "watches" Ruby kill Oswald on black-and-white TV; behind him, a rural church rises from the landscape in an iconic portrait.
Iconic. We keep coming back to that word — which, it's worth noting, is just one letter away from "ironic." In a country where advertising is the secular religion, "Iconic America" offers up a visual Bible of our age — the books of Swoosh, , Lucky Strike and O.J. and so many more.
It elevates, glorifies, venerates our own creations — above even ourselves. But page after page, as it raises products to the heavens and compels us to kneel, the question unasked in all the exuberance cannot help but resonate: Are we worshipping false idols?