June 20, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Charlie Chaplin is alive and well and fishing for shrimp in South Carolina. Homer Simpson oversees a dairy farm in Loudon, Tenn. Emily Dickinson recently pledged Alpha Phi Kappa at a Quaker college in Ohio. Their covers are blown in Great Americans (Bloomsbury, $24.95), a whimsical portrait of 52 regular folks who share their names with national icons. Why would writer-photographer KK Ottesen, 32, chuck her job at Credit Suisse First Boston to take on this project? Because, she says, individuals like Illinois pastor Abraham Lincoln (above, left) and North Dakota gold prospector James Dean (right) are representative of their time: ”These people — and their history, their diversity, their background — show as much about the country now as the people who are famous showed about the country then.”

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