A New Literary History of America | Edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors | Harvard University | 1128 pages | $49.95
This brick of a book is a browser's delight. Ranging over many high points and exploring interesting crannies of the American experience from 1507 to 2008, A New Literary History offers those interested in culture, history, and politics much to savor and more than a little with which to match wits.
Among those entries bringing fresh insight to seemingly exhausted subjects are Ted Widmer on Roger Williams and Abraham Lincoln, Greil Marcus on Moby-Dick, Anita Patterson on T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence, Camille Paglia on Tennessee Williams, and Charles Taylor juxtaposing with great verve JFK's inaugural with Catch-22. There are virtuoso explanations: Anthony Grafton on Edmund Wilson's TheAmerican Earthquake, Dave Hickey on Hank Williams's transformation of the American song in country music, and Monica Miller on the transcendental meaning of Zora Neale Thurston's denunciation of Brown v. The Board of Education. Mary Gaitskill on Norman Mailer is a stylistic tour de force.
A measure of this book's success is that it suggests an interesting parlor game: who and what are missing? I would have enjoyed reading Arthur Danto on George Santayana or George Scialabba on, say, The New Yorker. Nevertheless, this ambitious anthology succeeds beyond reasonable expectations in satisfying what Lionel Trilling (alas, also not included) said was "the moral obligation to be intelligent."
— Peter Kadzis
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