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A New Literary History of America

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4.12  ·  Rating details ·  249 ratings  ·  49 reviews
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
...more
Hardcover, 1095 pages
Published November 4th 2009 by Belknap Press
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Paul Bryant
May 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: litcrit
Magnificent, exasperating, eccentric, vast, humming with a thousand voices, ten thousand whispery pages, and also, also a rack of 78s and 45s; this history takes the word LITERATURE and explodes it into a lot moren ever it used to be so its not just the serene tramp tramp tramp of the great names going by duly saluted and festooned with praise, its also speeches, songs, paintings, and all that radio needs is a fuse and you can pound that dent out in the hood and everythings a dollar in this box. ...more
James Murphy
Oct 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Well, there aren't enough stars in the "heaventree" of the goodreads system to do justice to A New Literary History of America. This book collects 200 essays to trace America's literary history from 1507 when the name America first appeared on a map to the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In between is an incredible journey celebrating not only the important moments in our literature but such other significant things as song lyrics, hallmark speeches and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Some of ...more
A. Shaskan
A New Literary History of America is a 1,050-page collection of 219 essays. I suspect that most of the people giving this book a good review haven't actually read it all the way through, as I have. I think it would be uncharitable to suggest an alternative - that many of the readers who rate it highly can't distinguish between good writing and bad writing.

To begin with, this book comes nowhere close to living up to its grandiose title. Instead of a "literary history," we get a collection of
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Diann Blakely
Co-edited by one of this country's most dazzlingly wide-ranging, prolific, and intellectually charismatic writers, Greil Marcus, among the most celebrated nonfiction volumes in the past year, this vast, wickedly vibrant--Ann Marlowe on Linda Lovelace?--education between covers must come with a small note of warning: an extended trance state induced by the treasure-like essays here can produce incidents such as dropping "the Harvard book" on one's still-asleep-foot, causing it turn bruise-black ...more
Jeff
Nov 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-history

Some numbers: 1044 pages. 223 essays. Five pages for every essay. 201 essayists. Three essayists (the editors, Marcus and Sollors, plus David Thomson) with three or more essays. Twelve editorial board members, recruiting, a number of whom write twice. Fourteen contributors without University affiliation, only one of these on the Editorial Board. Five of the so-called "Seven Arts" (Painting, Literature, Theater, Sculpture, Architecture, Dance, Music) represented among the 223 with an essay. One

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Alex
Oct 02, 2010 rated it liked it
For a literary history, this book seems to do everything it possibly can to avoid being about books.

The back cover should give you a clue about this. It mentions essays like:
- The name 'America' appears for the first time
- The president delivers a six-minute speech
- D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation is released
- Bob Dylan writes "Song to Woody"
- Barack Obama is elected
The thing you might notice is that none of these essays are about books. And so goes kindof a surprising number of essays in the
...more
Kyo
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own, academic
This is a really good collection of essay, but it does take some time getting used to. There is a lot in quite a small space (and font) and you should not expect the essays to explain what the stories/movies/speeches/etc. are about: they give really interesting arguments and views, but if you don't know the basics of the thing the essay is about you might get lost. That aside, this is a perfect way to get a glimpse into the cultural/literary history of the United States through a lot of ...more
Sarah Finch
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A challenging, engrossing, and wonderfully rewarding compendium of essays on this country's literary history -- from John Smith to Phillis Wheatley to Edith Wharton to Miguel Pinero. It focuses primarily on the written word, but also on visual arts: one of the best pieces in the book is on Maya Lin and the Vietnam Memorial, while another great essay discusses the Hays Code and the question of film censorship. This studies a canon of work that is wonderfully varied, and part of the joy is ...more
Jennifer Arnold
Oct 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
This one has some serious heft - both figuratively and literally. It would have taken me ages to read all of the essays, but it was fun to read through the ones that caught my attention during the 3 weeks I had it from the library. From the Revolution through the election of Barack Obama, the essays trace the history of the United States through literature. My favorite essays covered Hurricane Katrina, the legalization of gambling in Nevada, the Book of Mormom, Hawthorne and Melville, and an ...more
Matt

Dave Hickey and Ishmael Reed's essays, on Hank Williams and Huck Finn respectively, are brilliant. There's a tremendous amount of amazing material here- a few mediocrities, to be sure, and some clunkers, maybe, but the overall effect is stimulating, accessible, creative, and often counter-intuitive, which is precisely how I like 'em...and a book about American literary (more like cultural) history deserves no less...
Christopher
Oct 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant collection of dozens of essays, by as many different authors, covering different aspects of American culture, literature, art, music, movies, and much else, from 1507 to 2008. Whether you read it cover to cover or dip into it here and there, it is a delight.
Julieann Wielga
Jul 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It took me three and one half years to read this book. Sometimes I would read a couple a day and sometimes I would not read any essays for a months.

Some of the essays flew over my head. Some were very thought provoking.

The interpretation of Literary is very broad. I learned these things from this cultural history. History happens all the time. It happens on all scales to all people. We cull our stories to fit in a particular grouping. Lots of stories are about guys and written about buys and
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Evan
Aug 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
I was excited to get my hands on this, but it let me down. The main problem with it was (what I perceived as) the too-heavy impact of at least one of its editors (Greil Marcus) on the contents; I'd been hoping for more of a palimpsest, a cacophony of different voices, but many of the essays shared the same hyperallusive style that pervades Marcus's writing. (The most noticeable exceptions, intriguingly, came from some of the biggest-name contributors: Ishmael Reed on "Huck Finn," Michael Tolkin ...more
Ted Morgan
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This comprehensive literary history and commentary on American literature presented in fairly brief essays on our history startled and intrigued me. I still refer to it from time to time because as yet I have not exhausted its insight and charm. I am a great fan of Greil Marcus and now Werner Sollors.

I found fresh articles that introduced me to literature I had not know and means to further explore those entries.
Tuck
Oct 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
a MUST have for anybody who is serious about their fiction in the 20th century west (and 21st some too). So get this and keep it next to your dictionary. much better than any google or wiki could ever be. why? because greil marcus put a lot of thought, sweat and soul in here too. Think of this as the Oxford Atlas of the World or Roget's or Websters or OED of cool lit.
Brett
May 17, 2019 added it
Fucking finished! The greatest value of this book is that it reveals a lot of the b-sides of American literature. Will make an accompanying reading list soon.

Norman Mailer shows up a bit too much for my liking but oh well.
Michael
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mainly gold, with a little dross.
Lisa Stemmons
May 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
Some passages are far too academic for me, making it something I have to be in the mood for. Sounded much more interesting than it actually was.
Chris Wharton
Probably my longest book (1050 pages of the main body) read from beginning to end over the longest period of time (begun two days after Christmas 2019, a present from son Ben, finished June 20, 2020, Father's Day eve), this 2009 collection from Harvard University Press offers 222 four- to six-page essays by 201 contributors on a welter of topics both in American literary history (from major figures to the heretofore-to-me unknown) and in America's larger history--to illustrate the scope of the ...more
Richard Subber
Jul 17, 2020 rated it did not like it
Okay, its literary and its history and its American.
The entries are written by candid, eagerly informed, and gratuitously didactic academics who probably love to read this kind of stuff.
For my taste, A New Literary History of America is disconnected, faddish, and acutely sensitive to nuances of language and context that lots of readers (like me) dont care about too much.
Andy Warhol isnt listed as a consulting editor, but I think he would have taken the job if hed been available.

Read more of my
...more
TJ
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book consists of many different essays. It touches an enormous variety of subjects and definitely gave me a better idea of America. You don't need to read all of them, you also don't need to read them in chronological sequence. Some are better written than others, but overall it's well written. What I particularly enjoyed was that some essays deal with themes that are not much written about, for example the history of written records of Native American languages.
Matt
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bookcase
Took a little while to get through (two years!). A deeply satisfying anthology of bite-sized literary history and criticism. The wide-angle lens on the stories that made America has been a vital balm during the end-times of the Trump presidency. Anyone interested in the project of America would love the hell out of this.
Terry
Oct 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lit-crit, essays
More than a "traditional" body of lit-crit, this is a Harvard-centric look at the "documents" that comprise a Harvard-centric America. Harvard IS the oldest institution of "higher learning" in the USA. So it maybe isn't "bad," or beyond reason, that Harvard Fellows and Harvard grads predominate not only in the writing but in the written about (35% of the material is by or about Harvard in some way). The writing is, sometimes, stellar even when it is stridently academic, or perhaps "academicist." ...more
Stven
Apr 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Stven by: library
A fantastic collection of short essays in a marvelously broad range of topics in American history by a great many writers, this book is so huge in scope that it needs to be owned and kept handy for a year or two to be properly appreciated. I've only scratched the surface with a few at the beginning (how "America" first came to appear on a map) and a few at the end. Some of these essays are fascinating and others are useless -- for instance, an essay that purports to be about modern poetry but ...more
GONZA
Jul 03, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The literary history of the United States through its more and less well-known writers, the speeches of presidents, declarations of independence, the birth of the Blues and Jazz to end with the election of the first black president. Although this manual was really long, it has been interesting.

La storia della letteratura degli Stati Uniti attraverso i suoi piú e meno noti scrittori, i discorsi dei presidenti, le dichiarazioni di indipendenza, la nascita del Blues e quella del Jazz per finire con
...more
Anna
Jan 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I would love to take the time to peruse this book at my leisure. I got it from the library and as such, did not have time to read more than a few pieces. That being said - I enjoyed the topics immensely. It was interesting to read through the "history of America" from a different perspective. The title may be misleading to those who are expecting literary to be about books only. The author includes songs, speeches and other types of written works. I may add it to my kindle shelves to read at ...more
Gene Doucette
Aug 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is an anthology of essays covering the literary history of America. There are sections that are brilliant and informative, other sections that are dense and difficult, but as a whole, it's an excellent read. A good book to have lying around when you need to read something but not a LOT of something. It took several months of casual reading to get through, which was exactly the pace called for.
Andrew
May 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An interesting addition to the reference bookshelf, this collection of short essays covers seminal events in U.S. history, from the first hymnal collections to the appearance of Junius Booth in U.S. theaters. No matter how deep your knowledge is of American history or literature, you'll find some surprising events in here. Organized by year, it reflects major events in U.S. history.
Lynn
Jul 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This outrageous, audacious book gathers essays about America from its beginning through President Obama's inauguration and it's SPECTACULAR. Don't let the size scare you away -- most essays range from 3-8 pages, so it's perfect for reading in bite-sized chunks. I especially appreciated the randomness of it. A wonderful, wonderful book.
Dianne
Oct 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Reading Werner Sollors "1928, April 8, Easter Sunday: Dilsey Gibson goes to church and hears Reverend Shegog's Resurrection sermon" on Faulkner makes me want to go back and revisit The Sound and the Fury.
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Greil Marcus is the author of Mystery Train (1975), Lipstick Traces (1989), The Shape of Things to Come (2006), When that Rough God Goes Riding and Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus (both 2010), and other books. With Werner Sollors he is the editor of A New Literary History of America (2009). In recent years he has taught at Berkeley, Princeton, Minnesota, NYU, and the New School in New York. He lives in ...more

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