Walt Whitman: A Biography

Walt Whitman: A Biography

by Milton Meltzer

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Meltzer's reference text traces the varied life of one of America's greatest poets. In addition to the chronological narrative, he includes phrases, lines and entire poems that illuminate the poet's values, beliefs and states of mind at various stages in his life and career. Although Whitman's allusions and language are sometimes difficult for younger readers to comprehend, Meltzer's provision of historical and social context helps make the included excerpts more readily accessible. Several black-and-white photographs of Whitman, as well as his manuscripts in revision and advertisements for his works, lend a sense of authenticity and realism to the biography. In his presentation of the poet, Meltzer does not shy away from the truth, including even those details that might tarnish our perception of Whitman as a writer and a man. We hear of his generous volunteerism in Civil War hospitals and the profound impact his poetic forms had on the writing of his day. But we also learn of his hesitance to believe that blacks should have the right to vote in post-Civil War America and his choice to portray himself as financially desperate in order to receive donations from wealthy patrons. Whitman is shown as a man, one worthy of admiration but also one with foibles. Each chapter, titled after a key phrase taken directly from Whitman's writings, can stand on its own and be read easily within a class period. The text also includes a chronology of Whitman's life, suggestions for further reading including Internet references and a comprehensive index for easy searching. 2002, Twenty-First Century Books, $31.40. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Wendy Glenn
It is unfortunate that few teens will be likely to pick up this title voluntarily. Providing more than merely a recitation of Whitman's life, Meltzer does an excellent job of showing how Whitman, his experiences, and his writings mirror the struggles that the young United States underwent during the poet's lifetime. The drama of Whitman's life and work is that of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, the quiet, the everyday, the everyman and everywoman. Short chapters with ample drawings and photographs, along with countless quotes from Whitman's work, add to the readability of this title. One wishes that Meltzer had included footnotes in the text, but his list of further reading includes many titles about Whitman, his writings, and American history during Whitman's time. Also included is information about visiting Walt Whitman sites and a few Web sites. This title is highly recommended for high school libraries, but those owning Walt Whitman by Catherine Reef (Clarion, 1995/VOYA October 1995) might want to consider this additional title only if demand warrants it. Be sure to share it with American history and literature teachers. Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Further Reading. Chronology. VOYA Codes: 5Q 2P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Twenty-First Century Books, 160p. PLB
— Susan Smith
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-Meltzer follows his well-received biography of Carl Sandburg (21st Century, 1999) with this book about another American icon. Along with the facts of Whitman's life and some discussion of his work, this well-crafted and solidly researched title offers background on the political and social timbre of the tumultuous times in which the man lived. Whitman was more than a poet; he was a player on the stage of American history. He nursed wounded Civil War soldiers, was praised by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oscar Wilde, was a fierce debater, and, while living in Washington, DC, saw President Lincoln almost daily in the street. Many black-and-white photographs, reproductions, and facsimiles of Whitman's work with his notations are included. Mint-green type offsets the chapter headings, and page numbers and wide margins provide ease of reading. The list of further reading includes modern Whitman editions, works about him, and recommended Web sites. Catherine Reef's excellent Walt Whitman (Clarion, 1995) integrates more poetry into his life story. Both titles are examples of the best of the genre; libraries would do well to own a copy of each of them.-Jane Halsall, McHenry Public Library District, IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Walt Whitman is a rich subject for biography: a long and peripatetic life; jobs that ranged from schoolteacher to printer to Civil War hospital nurse; famed as a journalist, essayist, and above all as a poet. Veteran and much-honored writer Meltzer (Piracy and Plunder, 2001, etc.) does him justice in this readable biography. In every chapter, he places Whitman in the context of his age, from his birth in 1819 on Long Island and his move to Brooklyn, to his journeys during the Civil War, his work in Washington D.C., and his old age in Camden, New Jersey. Meltzer doesn't stint at the complications of Whitman's life: his stern and possibly abusive father; his own homosexuality; and his constant search for reliable income. But what he does so elegantly in this study is capture Whitman's restless spirit and how it both reflected and contradicted the intellectual currents of his time. This is a beautifully designed volume, too, with copious photographs and the color green used to accent chapter headings, page numbers, and so on. Several of Whitman's best-known poems are excerpted as well. A worthy tribute. (chronology, bibliography including Web sites and historical sites, index) (Biography. 10-14)

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Product Details

Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date:
American Literary Greats Series
Product dimensions:
7.30(w) x 10.10(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
9 - 14 Years

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