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A New Literary History of America

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Overview

America is a nation making itself up as it goes along—a story of discovery and invention unfolding in speeches and images, letters and poetry, unprecedented feats of scholarship and imagination. In these myriad, multiform, endlessly changing expressions of the American experience, the authors and editors of this volume find a new American history.

In more than two hundred original essays, A New Literary History of America brings together the nation’s many voices. From the first conception of a New World in the sixteenth century to the latest re-envisioning of that world in cartoons, television, science fiction, and hip hop, the book gives us a new, kaleidoscopic view of what “Made in America” means. Literature, music, film, art, history, science, philosophy, political rhetoric—cultural creations of every kind appear in relation to each other, and to the time and place that give them shape.

The meeting of minds is extraordinary as T. J. Clark writes on Jackson Pollock, Paul Muldoon on Carl Sandburg, Camille Paglia on Tennessee Williams, Sarah Vowell on Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Walter Mosley on hard-boiled detective fiction, Jonathan Lethem on Thomas Edison, Gerald Early on Tarzan, Bharati Mukherjee on The Scarlet Letter, Gish Jen on Catcher in the Rye, and Ishmael Reed on Huckleberry Finn. From Anne Bradstreet and John Winthrop to Philip Roth and Toni Morrison, from Alexander Graham Bell and Stephen Foster to Alcoholics Anonymous, Life, Chuck Berry, Alfred Hitchcock, and Ronald Reagan, this is America singing, celebrating itself, and becoming something altogether different, plural, singular, new.

Please visit www.newliteraryhistory.com for more information.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In hardcover, this mammoth collection of original essays impressed reviewers and general readers with the breadth and depth of its contributions. In fact, its 1128 pages cover a dizzying variety of topics far more extensive than previous literary histories; from colonial ethnic strife and antebellum literary battles to Citizen Kane, country music, the atomic bomb, and Thomas Pynchon. And the match-up of writers and subjects easily qualifies as irresistible: Camille Paglia on Tennessee Williams; Gerald Early on Tarzan; Sarah Vowell on Grant Wood's American Gothic; Walter Mosley on hard-boiled detective fiction; Bharati Mukherjee on The Scarlet Letter; Paul Muldoon on Carl Sandburg. Now in paperback.

Tim Flannigan

Elle
Ambitious, thought-provoking, and comprehensive, A New Literary History of America edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, features more than 200 essays on poems, letters, novels, memoirs, speeches, movies, and theater, by writers ranging from Bharati Mukherjee to John Edgar Wideman, reinterpreting the American experience form the 1500s forward.
New York Magazine
[An] essential, eclectic doorstop anthology.
Entertainment Weekly
Hundreds of essayists write short, but think expansively on just about everything that makes us who we are--from Elvis to Obama.
Fortune
You could get a hernia lifting A New Literary History of America, a 1,095-page tome edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors. But you could also get a thorough, original, and occasionally startling education. Some 200 essays on our literary past by writers as disparate as critic/provocateur Camille Paglia (on the sexually electric Broadway opening of A Streetcar Named Desire) and sportswriter Michael MacCambridge (on football fiction) make for a book as richly varied as the nation itself.
avclub.com
[This] may be the most unique attempt yet to tell the story of the United States...It's a feast for anyone who cares about history and national identity, not to mention a showcase for virtuoso writing.
Time Out New York
This hefty yet invigorating anthology of 225 new essays about American culture and history is perfect for the hard-to-please smarty-pants.
Wall Street Journal - Wes Davis
In snapshots of a few thousand words each, the entries in A New Literary History put on display the exploring, tinkering and risk-taking that have contributed to the invention of America...A New Literary History of America gives us what amounts to a fractal geometry of American culture. You can focus on any one spot and get a sense of the whole or pull back and watch the larger patterns appear. What you see isn't the past so much as the present.
New York Times - Patricia Cohen
A New Literary History of America is not your typical Harvard University Press anthology...[It] roams far beyond any standard definition of literature. Aside from compositions that contain the written word, its subjects include war memorials, jazz, museums, comic strips, film, radio, musicals, skyscrapers, cybernetics and photography.
Salon - Laura Miller
This magnificent volume is a vast, inquisitive, richly surprising and consistently enlightening wallow in our national history and culture...Neither reference nor criticism, neither history nor treatise, but a genre-defying, transcendent fusion of them all. It sounds impossible, but the result seems both inevitable and necessary and profoundly welcome, too...This book is not so much a history of our literature as it is a literary version of our history, told through the culture we've created to recount our past and conjure our future...In the age of Wikipedia, a reference book like this needs more than just the facts; it needs to tell us what the facts mean, and A New Literary History does just that.
Entertainment Weekly online - Ken Tucker
The huge, welcoming, exciting, just-published volume A New Literary History of America is a book with which to spend entire days and the rest of your life...Where else are you going to read Camille Paglia on Tennessee Williams, Mary Gaitskill on Norman Mailer, and Walter Mosley on the hardboiled detective novel? Don't you want to do that right now?...Talk about an all-American value: You could read this 1,000-plus-page book forever and never use up its revelations and its pleasures.
Boston Globe Brainiac blog - Christopher Shea
[This] represents a rethinking of the awkward genre of literary history, which can fall disappointingly between the cracks of straight criticism and narrative history, devolving into a dull recitation of author bios and conventional literary wisdom. With the help of an editorial board, Marcus and Sollors settled on 216 artworks (film and painting as well as texts), authors, movements, and cultural artifacts that help answer the question, "What is America?" Emerson, Melville, Dickinson, and Faulkner are in there, to be sure, but so are the Winchester rifle, "Steamboat Willie," Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," Alcoholics Anonymous, and Linda Lovelace (the star of the pornographic film "Deep Throat," who later said she'd been raped during its filming)...It will be a welcome change if a "literary history," for once, stirs up a little dust.
Booklist - Donna Seaman
Of course it's hefty; it's a "broadly cultural history" of America with a literary bent, an avid and provocative collaboration that tracks the American story not only through works of American literature, classic and forgotten, but also via music, art, pop culture, speeches, letters, religious tracts, photographs, and Supreme Court decisions. Versatile social critic and historian Marcus, Harvard University professor of English and African American studies Sollors, and their illustrious board of editors assembled more than 200 commissioned essays, which meander chronologically from 1507 and the first appearance on a map of the name "America" to Barack Obama's election. In between is a dazzling array of inquiries into Gone with the Wind and Invisible Man, The Wizard of Oz and the blues, hard-boiled detective stories and Mickey Mouse, "Howl" and Miles Davis, nature writing and Zora Neale Hurston. With such contributors as Elizabeth Alexander, Mary Gaitskill, Bharati Mukherjee, Richard Powers, Ishmael Reed, David Thomson, David Treuer, and John Edgar Wideman, this is an adventurous, jazzily choral, and kaleidoscopic book of interpretations, illuminations, and revitalized history.
Cleveland Plain Dealer - Ron Antonucci
Reading this gorgeous compendium on the written word in America should be required for gaining or maintaining U.S. citizenship. And even at more than 1,000 pages, it's a fun way to learn what we're all about...The list of contributors is a rich, varied array of our best contemporary writers and cultural mavens...The editors were aiming for "a reexamination of the American experience as seen through a literary glass." Marcus and Sollors have succeeded: This book is a literary history in every sense of the phrase.
Boston Examiner - Michelle Kerns
It's natural to have high expectations of a book with the lofty title A New Literary History of America. What isn't natural is for the book to not just live up to, but far exceed those expectations...Edgar Allen Poe's invention of the detective story hobnobs with the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Hank Williams' country music is only a few pages from Zora Neale Hurston. It's as glorious a melting pot as America itself...If you've found yourself envying Britain her Shakespeare, Dickens, and Austen, this book will bring you back to America and make you fall in love with her confidence, her innovation, her sheer pluck, all over again... A treasure for American history AND literature lovers.
Arts Fuse - Bill Marx
The book is not your usual bookish chronicle made up of fearless men churning out classics for the edification of the nation...[It's an] eclectic, opinionated vision of the story of American letters.
Buffalo News - Jeff Simon
A wildly informative, hugely entertaining and sometimes even revelatory book.
San Diego Union-Tribune - Robert Pincus
Tailor-made for fruitful and fun browsing...This is a reference book for anyone with a curiosity about the sweep and scope of not just American literature but the culture itself in art, film, sermon and song.
New York Review of Books - Larry McMurtry
The feel of the whole is epic...By the time I had made my way through about a third of this book I began to feel an emotion that comes but rarely to a reviewer: pride. Not pride in America's politics or policies necessarily, but pride in our speech...In my opinion perhaps the single most impressive achievement in the book is the editors' and writers' ability to pinpoint linkages between one kind of fact and another...All the major writers, whether in poetry or prose, draw thoughtful essays.
Washington Times - Bruce Allen
The editors of this rich exercise in cultural history have taken up Pound's challenge [to "make it new"], producing an eloquent patchwork volume that gathers up more than 200 essays, chronologically arranged by subject, into a beguiling symphony that expresses the bewildering, often intimidating varieties of what we presume to call the American experience...This splendiferous tribute to the best that so many of us have thought and said and made embraces classic and watershed literary works and their authors, political acts and events and issues, statements of purpose and conscience, achievements in both the fine arts (music, painting, sculpture, et al) and the raucous venues of popular culture (yes, Virginia, we do get a crash course in the autobiographical writings of 1970s porn queen Linda Lovelace), and major figures ranging from the makers of the Constitution of the United States to contemporary film and television personalities and the giants and giantesses of pop, jazz and rock music...Defiantly unconventional...Surely one of the best books published in this country in a very long time.
Dallas Morning News - Chris Vognar
The mammoth New Literary History of America [is] an extraordinary anthology of literary culture brought to you by a seat-of-the-pants polyglot of a country.
npr.org - John McAlley
This new-breed reference book--featuring freshly penned and eccentrically focused essays by a heterogeneous who's who of academics, journalists and authors--ventures to remap the expanse of American history through five centuries of literary and cultural landmarks...Although it shares with its history-book forebears unimpeachable intellect and seriousness of intent, this is not the Oxford Companion to American Literature. For one thing, it's a lot more fun.
Times Literary Supplement - Jill Lepore
A New Literary History of America is about what's Made in America, and America, made. It's about what the writers who are its subjects have made of America, and, equally, what the contributors, writing about these writers, make of America, too. There's a certain amount of trading on literary celebrity, to be sure. But the claims on our attention, and it is a serious claim, lies within the republic of these writers' imaginations.
BookPage - Lacey Galbraith
In the monumental, absorbing A New Literary History of America, editors Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors have assembled a fascinating collection of writings on a range of subject matters: everything from maps, diaries and Supreme Court decisions to religious tracts, public debates, comic strips and rock and roll...In 1,000-odd pages, Marcus and Sollors have compiled a remarkable history of America...Most of all, A New Literary History of America is a reminder of just how vibrant and diverse United States history--and culture--really is.
Boston Phoenix - Peter Kadzis
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 The American 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...This ambitious anthology succeeds beyond reasonable expectations in satisfying what Lionel Trilling...said was "the moral obligation to be intelligent."
Süddeutsche Zeitung - Jörg Häntzschel
[The editors] tell an equally fascinating and moving history of the country, as we have never heard it before--and a story like which, say the editors, would not be possible in any other country...Instead of blending into the background of different shades of gray of a historical order, each of the events here radiates with seemingly contemporary luminosity.
East Bay Express - Anneli Rufus
A DIY college course unto itself.
San Antonio Express-News - Jim Kiest
An impressive achievement.
Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Andrea Köhler
[An] original new history of literature...A New Literary History of America recounts the history of the mind of a continent, and each single subject is approached with stylistic verve and thus knighted as literature by its authors, many of whom are themselves writers...Even though an idiosyncratic sprint across half a millennium of cultural history cannot avoid certain abbreviations, this amusing-to-read anthology teaches us that what appears to get more and more lost in this age of Wikipedia: well-researched, reflective, subjective and stylistically brilliant approaches that transform facts and figures into knowledge that can be passed on.
Chicago Tribune - Elizabeth Taylor
This may be called a literary history but it is more broadly a cultural history, a history of language in its many forms--novels, essays, plays, public speeches and private letters, sermons and on and on...The choices made by the editors are smart, and the writers of the essays engage ideas with great passion.
Times Higher Education - Matthew Reisz
Brings together a series of disconnected, personal (and often very opinionated) essays that not only offer new angles on the big names of U.S. literature but also consider Alcoholics Anonymous, the Book-of-the-Month Club, Citizen Kane, Dr. Seuss, skyscrapers, and Superman.
The Observer - Adam Mars-Jones
It's hard to imagine anyone right up to full professor failing to get excitement from this charged grid of event and interpretation...Hats off, though, to the editors above all, for constructing a volume where each element reinforces every other, often by contradicting it, so that the whole vast book is more exciting than even its most impressive part.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Bob Hoover
One way to reinvigorate our opinions about the nation's literary life is to encounter new ways to think about it. A New Literary History of America edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors does just that with a wide-ranging collection of essays.
San Diego Union-Tribune - Robert L. Pincus
It's weirdly inclusive (Is the Winchester Rifle really part of literary history?), but the big book has so many lively entries, on everything from hard-boiled fiction to New Journalism, that you can overlook its faults and enjoy its sweep.
Christian Century - Rodney Clapp
Never fails to engross and edify.
popmatters.com - Robert Loss
A New Literary History of America...avoids the temptation to rein in its subject too neatly or ease the strangeness out of American history. Not only does it stretch, appropriately, to America's earliest pre-history--the first essay, by Toby Lester, examines the first appearance of "America" on a map--this enormous anthology stretches the definition of literary...A New Literary History of America challenges not only its own structure, but also our traditional view of history's structure in order to emphasize the transmission, conscious or collectively unconscious, of ideas...But the pleasure of the volume, of course, is the massive collection of voices it brings together, subjects and authors both.
National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors blog - Ruth Franklin
This book came out only last year and has already proved itself indispensable. If I'm writing about anything that has to do with American literature, I look it up here first. The format is a little unwieldy--the book is organized chronologically around idiosyncratically chosen dates--but its capsule essays build into a surprising, inventive narrative of American culture: Ishamel Reed on "Mark Twain's hairball", Luc Sante on the blues, David Thomson on Chaplin, Ruth Wisse on Saul Bellow, Gish Jen on Catcher in the Rye, Mary Gaitskill on Norman Mailer....I could quibble with the omissions, or I could just shut up and be grateful that this book exists in any form.
Providence Journal - Tom D'Evelyn
Who would want to go into this particular new year, with all its uncertainties, without a copy of A New Literary History of America? Many hands delight and inform, and "literary history" is time stuffed full of "cultural creations" like this perfect bedside book. The selections are short, written with both precision and passion, and not infrequently deliver insights.
Elle
Ambitious, thought-provoking, and comprehensive, A New Literary History of America edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, features more than 200 essays on poems, letters, novels, memoirs, speeches, movies, and theater, by writers ranging from Bharati Mukherjee to John Edgar Wideman, reinterpreting the American experience form the 1500s forward.
San Francisco Chronicle
A collection of great minds writing on other great minds, art and literature, social movements, feats of scholarship and everything in between.
Publishers Weekly
The full national-literary character of the United States is on display in this mighty history and reference work for our time. Written by a distinguished team, under the sure-handed editorship of musicologist and historian Marcus and Sollors, Harvard professor of English and African-American studies, this volume begins with America's first appearance on a map and concludes with the election of President Obama. Among the more than 200 contributors are Bharati Mukherjee (on The Scarlet Letter), Camille Paglia (on Tennessee Williams) and Ishmael Reed (on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). The book includes entries on not strictly literary themes: the first U.S. natural history collection of painter Charles Willson Peale; the invention of the blues; and the art of Grant Wood. This balancing act is even less sure-footed as we enter present time with entries on Some Like It Hot and the National Football League. Although it is impossible to include every important author in one volume, Sylvia Plath barely gets a nod as does James Merrill. Such are the blemishes on exquisite skin. Overall, this is an astounding achievement in multiculturalism and American studies, which in the age of Google and the Internet lights the way toward serious interpretive reference publishing. 27 illus. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Marcus (Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music) and Sollors (English & Afro-American studies, Harvard) trace through literature the dynamism of American society and culture spanning 500 years, from the first time the name America appears on a map (1507) to the election of Barack Obama as president. The editors include over 200 chronologically arranged essays, original to this volume and including Camille Paglia on Tennessee Williams, Paula Rabinowitz on FDR's first fireside chat, David Treuer on Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha, Michael Tolkin on Alcoholics Anonymous, and Paul Muldoon on Carl Sandburg. The editors selected the entries from a pool of over 400 essays, requiring that each deal with a turning point, a new question, or a time when "what before seemed impossible came to seem necessary or inevitable." VERDICT No single volume can fully capture the range of a nation's literary history, but this book succeeds in highlighting new ideas and providing a starting point for further investigation. Above all, it is a pleasure to read.—Mark Alan Williams, Library of Congress
Providence Journal - Tom D'evelyn
Who would want to go into this particular new year, with all its uncertainties, without a copy of A New Literary History of America? Many hands delight and inform, and "literary history" is time stuffed full of "cultural creations" like this perfect bedside book. The selections are short, written with both precision and passion, and not infrequently deliver insights.
Wall Street Journal

In snapshots of a few thousand words each, the entries in A New Literary History put on display the exploring, tinkering and risk-taking that have contributed to the invention of America...A New Literary History of America gives us what amounts to a fractal geometry of American culture. You can focus on any one spot and get a sense of the whole or pull back and watch the larger patterns appear. What you see isn't the past so much as the present.
— Wes Davis

New York Times

A New Literary History of America is not your typical Harvard University Press anthology...[It] roams far beyond any standard definition of literature. Aside from compositions that contain the written word, its subjects include war memorials, jazz, museums, comic strips, film, radio, musicals, skyscrapers, cybernetics and photography.
— Patricia Cohen

Entertainment Weekly online

The huge, welcoming, exciting, just-published volume A New Literary History of America is a book with which to spend entire days and the rest of your life...Where else are you going to read Camille Paglia on Tennessee Williams, Mary Gaitskill on Norman Mailer, and Walter Mosley on the hardboiled detective novel? Don't you want to do that right now?...Talk about an all-American value: You could read this 1,000-plus-page book forever and never use up its revelations and its pleasures.
— Ken Tucker

Boston Globe Brainiac blog

[This] represents a rethinking of the awkward genre of literary history, which can fall disappointingly between the cracks of straight criticism and narrative history, devolving into a dull recitation of author bios and conventional literary wisdom. With the help of an editorial board, Marcus and Sollors settled on 216 artworks (film and painting as well as texts), authors, movements, and cultural artifacts that help answer the question, "What is America?" Emerson, Melville, Dickinson, and Faulkner are in there, to be sure, but so are the Winchester rifle, "Steamboat Willie," Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," Alcoholics Anonymous, and Linda Lovelace (the star of the pornographic film "Deep Throat," who later said she'd been raped during its filming)...It will be a welcome change if a "literary history," for once, stirs up a little dust.
— Christopher Shea

Arts Fuse

The book is not your usual bookish chronicle made up of fearless men churning out classics for the edification of the nation...[It's an] eclectic, opinionated vision of the story of American letters.
— Bill Marx

Buffalo News

A wildly informative, hugely entertaining and sometimes even revelatory book.
— Jeff Simon

San Diego Union-Tribune

It's weirdly inclusive (Is the Winchester Rifle really part of literary history?), but the big book has so many lively entries, on everything from hard-boiled fiction to New Journalism, that you can overlook its faults and enjoy its sweep.
— Robert L. Pincus

Washington Times

The editors of this rich exercise in cultural history have taken up Pound's challenge [to "make it new"], producing an eloquent patchwork volume that gathers up more than 200 essays, chronologically arranged by subject, into a beguiling symphony that expresses the bewildering, often intimidating varieties of what we presume to call the American experience...This splendiferous tribute to the best that so many of us have thought and said and made embraces classic and watershed literary works and their authors, political acts and events and issues, statements of purpose and conscience, achievements in both the fine arts (music, painting, sculpture, et al) and the raucous venues of popular culture (yes, Virginia, we do get a crash course in the autobiographical writings of 1970s porn queen Linda Lovelace), and major figures ranging from the makers of the Constitution of the United States to contemporary film and television personalities and the giants and giantesses of pop, jazz and rock music...Defiantly unconventional...Surely one of the best books published in this country in a very long time.
— Bruce Allen

Dallas Morning News

The mammoth New Literary History of America [is] an extraordinary anthology of literary culture brought to you by a seat-of-the-pants polyglot of a country.
— Chris Vognar

npr.org

This new-breed reference book—featuring freshly penned and eccentrically focused essays by a heterogeneous who's who of academics, journalists and authors—ventures to remap the expanse of American history through five centuries of literary and cultural landmarks...Although it shares with its history-book forebears unimpeachable intellect and seriousness of intent, this is not the Oxford Companion to American Literature. For one thing, it's a lot more fun.
— John McAlley

Boston Examiner

It's natural to have high expectations of a book with the lofty title A New Literary History of America. What isn't natural is for the book to not just live up to, but far exceed those expectations...Edgar Allen Poe's invention of the detective story hobnobs with the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Hank Williams' country music is only a few pages from Zora Neale Hurston. It's as glorious a melting pot as America itself...If you've found yourself envying Britain her Shakespeare, Dickens, and Austen, this book will bring you back to America and make you fall in love with her confidence, her innovation, her sheer pluck, all over again... A treasure for American history AND literature lovers.
— Michelle Kerns

Booklist

Of course it's hefty; it's a "broadly cultural history" of America with a literary bent, an avid and provocative collaboration that tracks the American story not only through works of American literature, classic and forgotten, but also via music, art, pop culture, speeches, letters, religious tracts, photographs, and Supreme Court decisions. Versatile social critic and historian Marcus, Harvard University professor of English and African American studies Sollors, and their illustrious board of editors assembled more than 200 commissioned essays, which meander chronologically from 1507 and the first appearance on a map of the name "America" to Barack Obama's election. In between is a dazzling array of inquiries into Gone with the Wind and Invisible Man, The Wizard of Oz and the blues, hard-boiled detective stories and Mickey Mouse, "Howl" and Miles Davis, nature writing and Zora Neale Hurston. With such contributors as Elizabeth Alexander, Mary Gaitskill, Bharati Mukherjee, Richard Powers, Ishmael Reed, David Thomson, David Treuer, and John Edgar Wideman, this is an adventurous, jazzily choral, and kaleidoscopic book of interpretations, illuminations, and revitalized history.
— Donna Seaman

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Reading this gorgeous compendium on the written word in America should be required for gaining or maintaining U.S. citizenship. And even at more than 1,000 pages, it's a fun way to learn what we're all about...The list of contributors is a rich, varied array of our best contemporary writers and cultural mavens...The editors were aiming for "a reexamination of the American experience as seen through a literary glass." Marcus and Sollors have succeeded: This book is a literary history in every sense of the phrase.
— Ron Antonucci

Times Literary Supplement

A New Literary History of America is about what's Made in America, and America, made. It's about what the writers who are its subjects have made of America, and, equally, what the contributors, writing about these writers, make of America, too. There's a certain amount of trading on literary celebrity, to be sure. But the claims on our attention, and it is a serious claim, lies within the republic of these writers' imaginations.
— Jill Lepore

BookPage

In the monumental, absorbing A New Literary History of America, editors Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors have assembled a fascinating collection of writings on a range of subject matters: everything from maps, diaries and Supreme Court decisions to religious tracts, public debates, comic strips and rock and roll...In 1,000-odd pages, Marcus and Sollors have compiled a remarkable history of America. Their expanded definition of literary encompasses "not only what is written but also what is voiced, what is expressed, what is invented, in whatever form." Most of all, A New Literary History of America is a reminder of just how vibrant and diverse United States history—and culture—really is.
— Lacey Galbraith

Boston Phoenix

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 The American 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...This ambitious anthology succeeds beyond reasonable expectations in satisfying what Lionel Trilling...said was "the moral obligation to be intelligent."
— Peter Kadzis

Süddeutsche Zeitung

[The editors] tell an equally fascinating and moving history of the country, as we have never heard it before—and a story like which, say the editors, would not be possible in any other country...Instead of blending into the background of different shades of gray of a historical order, each of the events here radiates with seemingly contemporary luminosity.
— Jörg Häntzschel

East Bay Express

A DIY college course unto itself.
— Anneli Rufus

San Antonio Express-News

An impressive achievement.
— Jim Kiest

Neue Zürcher Zeitung

[An] original new history of literature...A New Literary History of America recounts the history of the mind of a continent, and each single subject is approached with stylistic verve and thus knighted as literature by its authors, many of whom are themselves writers...Even though an idiosyncratic sprint across half a millennium of cultural history cannot avoid certain abbreviations, this amusing-to-read anthology teaches us that what appears to get more and more lost in this age of Wikipedia: well-researched, reflective, subjective and stylistically brilliant approaches that transform facts and figures into knowledge that can be passed on.
— Andrea Köhler

Chicago Tribune

This may be called a literary history but it is more broadly a cultural history, a history of language in its many forms—novels, essays, plays, public speeches and private letters, sermons and on and on...The choices made by the editors are smart, and the writers of the essays engage ideas with great passion.
— Elizabeth Taylor

Times Higher Education

Brings together a series of disconnected, personal (and often very opinionated) essays that not only offer new angles on the big names of U.S. literature but also consider Alcoholics Anonymous, the Book-of-the-Month Club, Citizen Kane, Dr. Seuss, skyscrapers, and Superman.
— Matthew Reisz

The Observer

It's hard to imagine anyone right up to full professor failing to get excitement from this charged grid of event and interpretation...Hats off, though, to the editors above all, for constructing a volume where each element reinforces every other, often by contradicting it, so that the whole vast book is more exciting than even its most impressive part.
— Adam Mars-Jones

Providence Journal

Who would want to go into this particular new year, with all its uncertainties, without a copy of A New Literary History of America? Many hands delight and inform, and "literary history" is time stuffed full of "cultural creations" like this perfect bedside book. The selections are short, written with both precision and passion, and not infrequently deliver insights.
— Tom D'Evelyn

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

One way to reinvigorate our opinions about the nation's literary life is to encounter new ways to think about it. A New Literary History of America edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors does just that with a wide-ranging collection of essays.
— Bob Hoover

Christian Century

Never fails to engross and edify.
— Rodney Clapp

popmatters.com

A New Literary History of America...avoids the temptation to rein in its subject too neatly or ease the strangeness out of American history. Not only does it stretch, appropriately, to America's earliest pre-history—the first essay, by Toby Lester, examines the first appearance of "America" on a map—this enormous anthology stretches the definition of literary...A New Literary History of America challenges not only its own structure, but also our traditional view of history's structure in order to emphasize the transmission, conscious or collectively unconscious, of ideas...But the pleasure of the volume, of course, is the massive collection of voices it brings together, subjects and authors both.
— Robert Loss

National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors blog

This book came out only last year and has already proved itself indispensable. If I'm writing about anything that has to do with American literature, I look it up here first. The format is a little unwieldy—the book is organized chronologically around idiosyncratically chosen dates—but its capsule essays build into a surprising, inventive narrative of American culture: Ishamel Reed on "Mark Twain's hairball", Luc Sante on the blues, David Thomson on Chaplin, Ruth Wisse on Saul Bellow, Gish Jen on Catcher in the Rye, Mary Gaitskill on Norman Mailer....I could quibble with the omissions, or I could just shut up and be grateful that this book exists in any form.
— Ruth Franklin

Book Page

In the monumental, absorbing A New Literary History of America, editors Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors have assembled a fascinating collection of writings on a range of subject matters: everything from maps, diaries and Supreme Court decisions to religious tracts, public debates, comic strips and rock and roll...In 1,000-odd pages, Marcus and Sollors have compiled a remarkable history of America...Most of all, A New Literary History of America is a reminder of just how vibrant and diverse United States history—and culture—really is.
— Lacey Galbraith

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Greil Marcus
Greil Marcus is the author of The Doors, Mystery Train, and other books.

Werner Sollors is Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English Literature and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

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Table of Contents

Timeline

Introduction
Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors
1507
The name “America” appears on a map
Toby Lester
1521, August 13
Mexico in America
Kirsten Silva Gruesz
1536, July 24
Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
Ilan Stavans
1585
“Counterfeited according to the truth”
Michael Gaudio
1607
Fear and love in the Virginia colony
Adam Goodheart
1630
A city upon a hill
Elizabeth Winthrop
1643
A nearer neighbor to the Indians
Ted Widmer
1666, July 10
Anne Bradstreet
Wai Chee Dimock
1670
The American jeremiad
Emory Elliott
1670
The stamp of God’s image
Jason D. LaFountain
1673
The Jesuit relations
Laurent Dubois
1683
Francis Daniel Pastorius
Alfred L. Brophy
1692
The Salem witchcraft trials
Susan Castillo
1693–94, March 4
Edward Taylor
Werner Sollors
1700
Samuel Sewall, The Selling of Joseph
David Blight
1722
Benjamin Franklin, The Silence Dogood Letters
Joyce E. Chaplin
1740
The Great Awakening
Joanne van der Woude
1740s, September 13-14 1814, Yankee Doodle goes to town; Francis Scott Key writes The Star-Spangled Banner
1765, December 23
Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur
Leo Damrosch
1773, September
Phillis Wheatley
Rafia Zafar
1776
The Declaration of Independence
Frank Kelleter
1784, June
Charles Willson Peale
Michael Leja
1787
James Madison, Notes of the Debates in the Federal Convention
Mitchell Meltzer
1787–1790
John Adams, Discourses on Davila
John Diggins
1791
Philip Freneau and The National Gazette
Jefrey L. Pasley
1796
Washington’s farewell address
François Furstenberg
1798
Mary Rowlandson and the Alien and Sedition Acts
Nancy Armstrong
1798
American gothic
Marc Amfreville
1801, March 4
Jefferson’s first inaugural address
Jan Ellen Lewis
1804, January
The matter of Haiti
Kaiama Glover
1809
Cupola of the world
Judith Richardson
1819
The Missouri crisis
John Stauffer
1820, November 27
Landscape with birds
Christoph Irmscher
1821
Sequoyah, the Cherokee syllabary
Lisa Brooks
1821, June 30
Junius Brutus Booth
Coppelia Kahn
1822
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, the Ojibwe firefly, and Longfellow’s Hiawatha
David Treuer
1825, November
Thomas Cole and the Hudson River
Alan Wallach
1826, July 4
Songs of the republic
Steve Erickson
1826
Cooper’s Leatherstocking tales
Richard Hutson
1826; 1927
Transnational poetry
Stephen Burt
1827
Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon
Terryl L. Givens
1828
David Walker, Appeal, in Four Articles
Tommie Shelby
1830, May 21
Jump Jim Crow
W. T. Lhamon, Jr.
1831, March 5
The Cherokee Nation decision
Philip Deloria
1832, July 10
President Jackson’s bank veto
Dan Feller
1835, January
Democracy in America
Ted Widmer
1835
William Gilmore Simms, The Yemasseee
Jefrey Johnson
1835
The Sacred Harp
Sean Wilentz
1836, February 23–March 6
The Alamo and Texas border writing
Norma E. Cantú
1836, February 28
Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
Kirsten Silva Gruesz
1837, August 31
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”
James Conant
1838, July 15
“The Divinity School Address”
Herwig Friedl
1838, September 3
The slave narrative
Caille Millner
1841
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
Robert Clark
1846, June
James Russell Lowell’s Biglow Papers
Shelley Streeby
1846, late July
Henry David Thoreau
Jonathan Arac
1850
The Scarlet Letter
Bharati Mukherje
1850, July 19
Margaret Fuller and the Transcendentalist Movement
Lawrence Buell
1850, August 5
Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville
Clark Blaise
1851, Moby-Dick
1851
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Beverly Lowry
1852
Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance and utopian communities
Winfried Fluck
1852, July 5
Frederick Douglass, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”
Liam Kennedy
1854, March
Maria Cummins and sentimental fiction
Cindy Weinstein
1855
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Angus Fletcher
1858
The Lincoln-Douglas debates
Michael T. Gilmore
1859
The science of the Indian
Scott Richard Lyons
1861
Emily Dickinson
Susan Stewart
1862, December 13
The journeys of Little Women
Shirley Samuels
1865, March 4
Lincoln’s second inaugural address
Ted Widmer
1865
“Conditions of repose”
Robin Kelsey
1869, March 4
Carl Schurz
Michael Boyden
1872, November 5
All men and women are created equal
Laura Wexler
1875
The Winchester Rifle
Merritt Roe Smith
1876, January 6
Melville in the dark
Kenneth W. Warren
1876, March 10
The art of telephony
Avital Ronell
1878
“How to Make Our Ideas Clear”
Christopher Hookway
1879
John Muir and nature writing
Scott Slovic
1881, January 24
Henry James, Portrait of a Lady
Alide Cagidemetrio
1884
Mark Twain’s hairball
Ishmael Red
1884, July
The Linotype machine
Lisa Gitelman
1884, November
The Southwest imagined
Leah Dilworth
1885
The problem of error
James Conant
1885, July
Limits to violence
James Dawes
1885, October
Writing New Orleans
Andrei Codrescu
1888, The introduction of motion pictures
1889, August 28
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Yael Schacher
1893
Chief Simon Pokagon and Native American literature
David Treuer
1895
Ida B. Wells, A Red Record
Jacqueline Goldsby
1896
Paul Laurence Dunbar, Lyrics of Lowly Life
Judith Jackson Fossett
1896, September 6
Queen Lili‘uokalani
Rob Wilson
1897, Memorial Day
The Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Monument
Richard Powers
1898, June 22
Literature and imperialism
Amy Kaplan
1899; 1924
McTeague and Greed
Gilberto Perez
1900
Henry Adams
T. J. Jackson Lears
1900
The Wizard of Oz
Gerald Early
1900; 1905
Sister Carrie and The House of Mirth
Farah Jasmine Grifin
1901
Charles W. Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition
John Edgar Wideman
1901-1903, The problem of the color line
1903, May 5
“The real American has not yet arrived”
Aviva Taubenfeld
1903
The invention of the blues
Luc Sante
1903
One sees what one sees
Daniel Albright
1904, August 30
Henry James in America
Ross Posnock
1905, October 15
Little Nemo in Slumberland
Katherine Roeder
1906, April 9
The Azusa Street revival
R. J. Smith
1906, April 18 , 5:14 a.m.
The San Francisco Earthquake
Kathleen Moran
1911
“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”
Philip Furia
1912, April 15
Lifeboats cut adrift
Alan Ackerman
1912
The lure of impossible things
Heather Love
1912
Tarzan begins his reign
Gerald Early
1913
A modernist moment
Bonnie Costello
1915
D. W. Griffith, The Birth of a Nation
Richard Schickel
1915
Robert Frost
Christian Wiman
1917
The philosopher and the millionaire
Richard J. Bernstein
1920, August 10
Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues”
Daphne A. Brooks
1921
Jean Toomer
Elizabeth Alexander
1922
T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence
Anita Patterson
October 1923, Chaplinesque
1924
F. O. Matthiessen meets Russell Cheney
Robert Polito
1924, May 26
The Johnson-Reed Act and ethnic literature
Yael Schacher
1925
The Great Gatsby
Lan Tran
1925, June
Sinclair Lewis
Jefrey Ferguson
1925, July
The Scopes trial
Michael Kazin
1925, August 16
Dorothy Parker
Catherine Keyser
1926
Fire!!
Carla Kaplan
1926
Hardboiled
Walter Mosley
1926
The Book-of-the-Month Club
Joan Shelley Rubin
1927
Carl Sandburg and The American Songbag
Paul Muldoon
1927, May 16
“Free to develop their faculties”
Jefrey Rosen
1928, April 8, Easter Sunday
Dilsey Gibson goes to church
Werner Sollors
1928, Summer
John Dos Passos
Phoebe Kosman
1928, November 18
The mouse that whistled
Karal Ann Marling
1930
“You're swell!”
Robert Gottlieb
1930, March
The Silent Enemy
Micah Treuer
October 1930, Grant Wood's American Gothic"
1931, March 19
Nevada legalizes gambling
David Thomson
1932
Edmund Wilson, The American Jitters
Anthony Grafton
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    Posted December 19, 2009

    wow was this disappointing

    a wasted opportunity. to do this right, authors (who both are smart) should have chosen more first rate minds to do the reviewing

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