Required Reading: Why Our American Classics Matter Nowby Andrew Delbanco
In his deeply felt new book, Andrew Delbanco shows why our classic American writers remain indispensable, even in an age of uncertainty over what our common heritage is. Required Reading is a work of gratitude and urgency, for, as Mr. Delbanco says, "the world is better for these books having been written, and it is the responsibility of the critic to incite others to read them."
In superb chapters on Melville, Thoreau, Wharton, Richard Wright, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lincoln, and others, he shows how each writer enlarged the expressive range of the American language and our imagined sense of American possibilities. Whether Dreiser or Kate Chopin, Henry Adams or Zora Neale Hurston, American artists celebrated the ideal of the free individual while conveying with searing honesty the struggle to defend this ideal against hostile conditions and ideas.
Although of the writers discussed here only Lincoln was primarily a political thinker, a politics of liberal democracy is implicit in what they all wrote, Mr. Delbanco argues--a belief that individuals, whether born as servants or as masters, can break out of the confines of history and achieve lives of freedom and fulfillment. Each writer, in his or her own way, tried to create what might be called a democratic prose style expressing the belief in transcendence that remains at the core of the American imagination.
New York Times Notable Book of the Year
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