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VOYAThe five slim volumes in this series provide historical, political, social, and cultural context to aid in the study of American literature. Here readers will not find much in the way of plot summaries or career overviews. Instead the authors present material on the ideas, trends, events, and people that shaped the world in which American literature was written and initially received. Each book also includes a time line, glossary, and thumbnail biographies of about twenty-five important figures. The poor design of the series distinctly undermines its appeal. No more than a dozen black-and-white photographs and reproductions provide visual interest in each volume, and the large, italicized sidebars awkwardly disrupt the main text. This volume provides a good illustration of the strengths and limitations of this series. It is often true that without an understanding of the social and political climate of a work students may have difficulty engaging with it. These books aspire to cover a lot of ground in a very small amount of space. In Romanticism and Transcendentalism, the authors provide sidebars and short discussions on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, popular painters, influential U.S. presidents, technological advances, the proslavery and abolition movements, and shifts in religious thought. Yet the short format forces even the most influential and complicated issues into a few paragraphs at most. Students grappling with Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Poe, or Melville will find only limited help. Phillips and Ladd are marginally more successful in their treatment of poets such as Dickinson, Longfellow, and Whitman, because they can at least quote small pieces of these writer'sworks to link the contextual material to a piece of literature. Readers looking for a fresh approach to American literature or a series of textbooks written with a dynamic and lively voice will not find it in this series that also offers titles on Contemporary American Literature, American modernism, realism and regionalism, and the colonial and Revolutionary period. (Backgrounds to American Literature). VOYA CODES: 3Q 1P J S (Readable without serious defects; No YA will read unless forced to for assignments; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Facts on File, 96p.; Glossary. Index. Illus. Photos. Further Reading. Chronology., PLB $30.. Ages 12 to 18.
—Megan Lynn Isaac