discount The wholesale popular Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays from Colonial Times to the Present online

discount The wholesale popular Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays from Colonial Times to the Present online

discount The wholesale popular Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays from Colonial Times to the Present online

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"Not only an education but a joy. This is a book for the ages."  --Rivka Galchen

A monumental, canon-defining anthology of three centuries of American essays, from Cotton Mather and Benjamin Franklin to David Foster Wallace and Zadie Smith.


The essay form is an especially democratic one, and many of the essays Phillip Lopate has gathered here address themselves--sometimes critically--to American values. Even in those that don''t, one can detect a subtext about being American.

The Founding Fathers and early American writers self-consciously struggle to establish a recognizable national culture. The shining stars of the mid-nineteenth-century American Renaissance no longer lack confidence but face new reckonings with the oppression of blacks and women. The New World tradition of nature writing runs from Audubon, Thoreau, and John Muir to Rachel Carson and Annie Dillard. Marginalized groups in all periods use the essay to assert or to complicate notions of identity.

Lopate has cast his net intentionally wide, embracing critical, personal, political, philosophical, humorous, literary, polemical, and autobiographical essays, and making room for sermons, letters, speeches, and columns dealing with a wide variety of subjects. Americans by birth as well as immigrants appear here, famous essayists alongside writers more celebrated for fiction or poetry. The result is an extensive overview of the endless riches of the American essay.

Review

“An endlessly fortifying mixture of famous works and neglected gems that can take pride of place on anyone''s bedside table for months before its pleasures come close to being exhausted.” 
The Wall Street Journal

“A treasure trove, a word hoard, a bonanza, perfect for dipping into and rifling through. . . .  Lopate has amassed a heap of marvels. . . .  A superb guide to the nation’s most adventurous and searching forays into prose.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
 

“Eight hundred pages of mostly delight and edification. . . . Give in to its choral quality and it''s easy to feel not just the sweep of our centuries but the dialogical nature of our grandest ideas and most persistent struggles.” 
The New York Times

“An almost embarrassing abundance of riches. . . . Readers of Lopate’s seminal 1994 anthology “The Art of the Personal Essay” will already be familiar with his skill at picking pieces that perfectly offset and interrogate each other. Diving into one of his collections is always a delightful experience.”
C hristian Science Monitor

“A feast of American thought, wit, and wisdom.” 
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Phillip Lopate has captured the history of a nation speaking to itself and to the world. Lopate''s rich and expansive understanding of the form has allowed him to uncover the essayistic voice in unexpected places—the sermon, the eulogy, the political treatise. To read The Glorious American Essay is to envision the American experiment itself as a kind of essay, a narrative characterized by trial and error, triumphs and false starts. One comes away from this volume with a renewed sense of the essay''s vitality and its ability to capture the diverse and evolving consciousness of a country.”
Meghan O’Gieblyn, author of Interior States
 
“In this essential and, I daresay, definitive compendium, Phillip Lopate not only revisits the classics, he offers essays you might not have realized were essays: political speeches, historical documents, the musings of writers who probably had little idea at the time that they were creating lasting art. In doing so, Lopate captures what’s most magical about this form; it’s all around us at eye level—wherever there are words you can probably find an essay—yet the right hands can take it to places you never imagined.”
Meghan Daum, author of My Misspent Youth: Essays 

“The essay form models the way we need to live now. We need to think and feel in so many directions, reject easy dogmas, test our beliefs and desires. . . . Once again and right on time, Phillip Lopate offers an indispensable anthology. The Glorious American Essay travels from debate to dreamscape, manifesto to musing, from the struggles of history to the intimacies of the solitary self. Race, gender, science, religion, art, and identity: these quests and conflicts are our legacy as Americans.”
—Margo Jefferson, author of Negroland
 
“A sumptuous collection . . . exquisitely curated by one of our finest essayists. An indispensable resource for all of us who love the genre.”
—Robert Atwan, series editor of The Best American Essays

“The Glorious American Essay
 is, quite simply, glorious reading. Lopate has curated a collection of some of the best American essays ever written. . . [T]he book demonstrates the art, the power, the beauty and the cinematic scope of the American essay in its many forms.  Lopate''s introduction is a vital, eye-opening assessment of the potential and the impact of the essay and the ways in which nonfiction can inform, persuade, delight, surprise and, most importantly, enlighten the reader.”
—Lee Gutkind, author of My Last Eight Thousand Days
 
The Glorious American Essay situates the essay, an inherently democratic form of art, as the citizen-genre and nothing less than the literary cornerstone of the country. The mongrel nature of the essay is its strength: a mode of adaptability fit for differing, shifting, American ideals. This book could hardly be more timely, relevant, urgent, or necessary.”
—David Shields, author of Reality Hunger

“Lopate’s look at three centuries of essays emphasizes how writers have wrestled, explicitly or sub-textually, with America’s national values.”
Publishers Weekly’s TOP 10 new titles in Essays & Literary Criticism   
 
“I can’t think of anyone better suited than Phillip Lopate to put together an anthology like this. It fully deserves to takes its place alongside The Art of the Personal Essay as an indispensable volume.” 
—Geoff Dyer, author of Broadsword Calling Danny Boy

“Phillip Lopate is one of the most brilliant and original essayists now working. . . . He has sustained the lively openness of the student who observes and hypothesizes, refusing, admirably, to harden into the judge. . . . He is a master, and also a joy to read.” 
—Louise Glück 

“Phillip Lopate has earned his place at the center of our literary culture. A superb essayist, he also teaches, edits, [and] bestows order and perspective on this ever diversifying genre. The Glorious American Essay, showcases some of the best of what Whitman in another context called ‘our varied carols.’”
—Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies and The Art of Time in Memoir
 
“A is a thrilling tour through that most elusive jungle—the American Mind—over the course of nearly 300 years. There could be no better guide than Phillip Lopate. An invaluable anthology. It should be included in the library of anyone who has even a passing interest in American literature.”
—Michael Greenberg, author of Hurry Down Sunshine
 
“As we struggle to come to grips with where America has come from and where it is heading, I can’t imagine a better guide than Phillip Lopate’s The Glorious American Essay. His selection of incisive essays—from Cotton Mather and Nathaniel Hawthorne through Marilynne Robinson and Zadie Smith—charts the course of the great and flawed American experiment.  It’s a timely and invaluable anthology.”
—James Shapiro, author of Shakespeare in a Divided America

“What’s marvelous is the way Lopate’s anthologies—and this new American collection is no exception—manage to be not only comprehensive monuments of deep expertise, but such continuously fresh and thrilling reading companions, right through the biographical notes.”
—Jonathan Lethem, author of The Feral Detective
 
“Shaped by Phillip Lopate''s tremendous intellect and curiosity,  The Glorious American Essay is at once monumental and companionable. The American house of prose has more windows and doors than we had imagined, making this anthology not only an education, but a joy. This is a book for the ages.”
—Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

About the Author

PHILLIP LOPATE is the author of the essay collections  Against Joie de VivreBachelorhood, and Portrait of My Body. He has also written the novels  The Rug Merchant and  Confessions of a Summer. Lopate is the editor of  The Art of the Personal Essay and the Library of America''s  Writing New York, as well as the series editor of  The Art of the Essay. His film criticism appears regularly in  The New York Times and other publications. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

INTRODUCTION
I
 
The essay is a literary form dating back to ancient times, with a long and glorious history. As the record par excellence of a mind tracking its thoughts, it can be considered the intellectual bellwether of any modern society. The great promise of essays is the freedom they offer to explore, digress, acknowledge uncertainty; to evade dogmatism and embrace ambivalence and contradiction; to engage in intimate conversation with one’s readers and literary forebears; and to uncover some unexpected truth, preferably via a sparkling literary style. Flexible, shape-shifting, experimental, as befits its name derived from the French ( essai = “attempt”), it is nothing if not versatile.
 
In the United States, the essay has had a particularly illustrious if underexamined career. In fact, it is possible to see the dual histories of the country and the literary form as running on parallel tracks, the essay mulling current issues and thereby reflecting the story of the United States in each succeeding period. And just as American democracy has been an ongoing experiment, with no guarantees of perfection, so has the essay been, as William Dean Howells argued, an innately democratic form inviting all comers to say their piece, however imperfectly.
 
The Puritans, some of our earliest settlers, chose the essay over fiction and poetry as their preferred mode of expression. In both sermons and texts explicitly labeled “essays,” men like Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards articulated their religious and ethical values. Many later American commentators would take them to task for being sexually prudish, intolerant, and repressive. H. L. Mencken, in a scathing extended essay entitled “Puritanism as a Literary Force,” blamed that heritage for holding back American literature by overstressing behavioral proprieties while understressing aesthetics. Edmund Wilson wittily noted that Mencken himself was something of a Puritan. The bohemian wing of American literature, from Walt Whitman to the present, has engaged in protracted guerrilla warfare with Puritanism and offered itself as an alternative. On the other hand, Marilynne Robinson defends the Puritans from what she regards as a caricature of their positions. Say what you will about their rigid morality: these Puritan thinkers were highly learned, with sophisticated prose styles, and we are fortunate in having them set so high an intellectual standard for later American essayists to follow.
 
Skip ahead to the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Paine, all of whom seem to have been superb writers. In their treatises, pamphlets, speeches, letters, and broadsides, they tested their tentative views on politics and governance, hoping to move from conviction to certainty. Theirs was a self-conscious rhetoric influenced by the French Enlightenment authors and the orators of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as the polished eighteenth-century nonfiction prose writers of their opponent, Great Britain.
 
In the decades following independence, United States authors labored to free themselves from subservience to English parental literary influence and to establish a national culture that would sound somehow unmistakably American. Washington Irving, perhaps the first freelance American author to support himself by his pen, was ridiculed by British critics such as William Hazlitt for imitating the English periodical essayists. He, in turn, wrote an essay entitled “English Writers in America,” which began: “It is with feelings of deep regret that I observe the literary animosity daily growing up between England and America.” He went on to analyze the condescending travel accounts of English authors in America, which were then all the rage in Great Britain: “That such men should give prejudiced accounts of America is not a matter of surprize. The themes it offers for contemplation are too vast and elevated for their capacities. The national character is yet in a state of fermentation: it may have its frothings and sediment, but its ingredients are sound and wholesome; it has already given proofs of powerful and generous qualities, and the whole promises to settle down into something substantially excellent.” Edgar Allan Poe bristled at the canard that Americans were too materialistic and engineering-minded to produce literature: “Our necessities have been mistaken for our propensities. Having been forced to make rail-roads, it has been deemed impossible that we should make verse. . . . But this is the purest insanity. The principles of the poetic sentiment lie deep within the immortal nature of man, and have little necessary reference to the worldly circumstances which surround him . . . nor can any social, or political, or moral, or physical conditions do more than momentarily repress the impulses which glow in our own bosoms as fervently as in those of our progenitors.”
 
But it was Ralph Waldo Emerson, our greatest nineteenth-century essayist, who sounded the alarm most famously in his speech “The American Scholar.” Acknowledging that up to then the Americans were “a people too busy to give to letters more,” he nevertheless prophesied that the time was coming “when the sluggard intellect of this continent will look from under its iron lids, and fill the postponed expectations of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill. Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. The millions, that around us are rushing into life, cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests.” He concluded by saying: “We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe. . . . We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak with our own minds.” It’s worthwhile remembering that this author who called for independence from foreign culture was probably the best-read person of his time and had imbibed not only most of British, French, and German literature but Eastern religious classics as well.
 
Emerson developed a kind of essay that was quirky, densely complex, speculative, digressive, and epigrammatic. He was part of that extraordinary flowering of literary culture in the mid-nineteenth century, the so-called American Renaissance, which included Nathaniel Hawthorne, Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Whitman, Margaret Fuller, and Emily Dickinson. By the time it had run its course, there was no longer any doubt that America had itself a national culture. But there was more at stake than just the development of literary talent. The nation was facing enormous political and moral challenges from the twin oppressions of blacks and women. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which called for runaway slaves to be captured by northerners and returned as property to their southern slave owners, converted many of these writers to the abolitionist cause. Some of the most eloquent essays attacking slavery were penned by African Americans, such as Frederick Douglass and Martin R. Delany. They engendered an essayistic discourse on race that would be taken up by a distinguished lineage of black authors, including W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin, continuing into our present day.
 
Meanwhile, women of the nineteenth century, still denied the vote and other rights, were barred from many professions, patronized, physically abused, and oppressed. It is remarkable how far back in America feminist voices were heard, from Judith Sargent Murray’s 1790 “On the Equality of the Sexes” to Margaret Fuller to Sarah Moore Grimké and Fanny Fern, reaching a high point in the suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s great essay, “The Solitude of Self,” and sweeping forward to the twentieth century. The essay, once considered a male province, has been nourished by the mental toughness and emotional honesty of so many bold, brilliant women in the last hundred years: think of Mary McCarthy, Hannah
Arendt, Elizabeth Hardwick, Susan Sontag, Adrienne Rich, Joan Didion, Cynthia Ozick, Zadie Smith. . . .
 
Even when suffrage was extended to blacks and women, there was still the problem of completing democracy by transforming it from a merely legal form to an everyday reality for all classes and groups. So John Dewey argued for students and teachers to have more of a voice in determining educational policy; Jane Addams addressed in her settlement house movement the problems of young people thrown together as strangers in big cities; and Randolph Bourne put forward his vision of a “trans-national America” that would embrace the diversity of immigrants from other than Anglo-Saxon backgrounds.
 
Whenever the American essay has been unhitched from the urgent political and moral issues of the day, it has had to battle to stay commercially relevant. A specialty of the personal or familiar essay, in the tradition of Michel de Montaigne, Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, and Robert Louis Stevenson, is to focus on some seemingly small, trivial curiosity or annoyance of daily life, and to coax a larger significance from it. Some of the essayists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Agnes Repplier and Katharine Fullerton Gerould, excelled at this miniaturist belletristic form and found a home in magazines, but they also had to defend their work from charges that it was “genteel” or old-fashioned. The death of the essay was frequently if prematurely predicted. In 1919 Robert Cortes Holliday wrote good-humoredly: “It is said that essays are coming in again. Every once in a while someone says that. It is like prophecies concerning the immediate end of the world. However, it (either one of these prophecies) may be so this time.” (How pertinent those remarks are may be seen by examining our own recent history. Publishers twenty-five years ago treated essay collections as pariahs and would not touch the stuff. Since then, essays have come roaring back, and today there are dozens of collections exciting popular interest. But that could easily change, in which case essayists would again have to package their wares in some other disguise.)
 
One of the ways that the American essay kept alive in the 1910s, ’20s, and ’30s was to gravitate to the newspaper or magazine column, often in the guise of humor pieces. A fraternal order of such practitioners, which included Christopher Morley, Don Marquis, and Heywood Broun, called themselves facetiously the “colyumnists.” Masters of the six-hundred-word essay, they were very popular, especially in metropolitan settings, and set the agenda for the talk of the town. Their seemingly casual throwaway tone, “typical Joe” persona, and modest claims as literary artists belied the fact that they were all highly educated in the traditions of the English periodical essay.
 
At the opposite end of the journalistic spectrum, as far from the average Joe as possible, was H. L. Mencken, who employed an elevated, at times comically baroque, diction and took every opportunity to sneer at the provincial ignorance of the average American. In the Age of Mencken, roughly the 1920s, many writers felt alienated from American mass culture: some went abroad to Europe, like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, to absorb a more sophisticated, worldly ambience, while others stayed home and tried to raise the cultural level. (The critic Alfred Kazin spoke of “our writers’ absorption in every last detail of their American world together with their deep and subtle alienation from it.”) This lovers’ quarrel between America and its writers initially took the form of a mistrust of the masses and, later on, a wary suspicion about how consumerist mass culture would shape the people’s mentalities. It was also a protest against the shortcomings of the American dream, or at least its bland, self-satisfied complacencies. The discordant note struck by many native essayists regarding the mythologies of American exceptionalism may have sprung from the artists’ felt obligation to question received opinion.
 
Many of the essays chosen for this anthology address themselves specifically—sometimes lovingly, sometimes critically—to American values. (See, for instance, the pieces by George Santayana, Mary McCarthy, and Wallace Stegner, each taking America’s temperature.) But even those that do not do so have a secondary, if inadvertent, subtext about being American. E. B. White was an influential example of an essayist who conveyed, in a down-to-earth American tone, the average citizen’s preoccupations at home, while remaining aware of the larger challenges facing society.
 
In a United States where various groups have felt marginalized because of their ethnicity, national origin, gender, geographical location, or disability, members of these groups have increasingly turned to the essay as a means of asserting identity (or complicating it). Gerald Early, in his anthology Speech and Power, wrote: “Since black writing came of age in this country in the 1920s, the essay seems to be the informing genre behind it. . . . It is not surprising that many black writers have been attracted to the essay as a literary form since the essay is the most exploitable mode of the confession and the polemic, the two variants of the essay that black writers have mostly used.” The same could be said for other minority groups in American society, who have benefited the essay form immeasurably by adapting it to their purposes, enriching the American language with their dialect-flavored speech. They have contributed to the “cultural unity within diversity” ideal that Ralph Ellison envisioned for this country. At the same time, the American essay has taken a turn toward greater autobiographical frankness, thanks in part to their efforts.
 
Another skein of essay writing, of unarguable importance now that the planet finds itself endangered by climate change, is nature writing. In America, that tradition goes back at least as far as J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur and extends to John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Mary Austin, John Burroughs, Edward Abbey, Rachel Carson, and Annie Dillard, among others. We see in it an attempt to balance the factual and descriptive elements of flora and fauna with a fresh emotional access to wonder and awe. However alarmed these essayists may sound in their warnings of the threats to nature, there is still looming underneath an appeal to the original myth of America as the New World, a second Garden of Eden where humankind could finally get it right.
 
II
 
But wait: What is an essay? Many definitions have been proffered, none conclusive. Samuel Johnson called it “a loose sally of the mind.” Marilynne Robinson said it was “thought in the pure enjoyment of itself.” Chris Arthur wrote that “an essay is a literary electrocardiogram that traces out in words the pulse of thoughts” and “an essay arranges words with one eye on sense, one eye on style, and a third eye on wisdom.” R. P. Blackmur called it a form of “unindoctrinated thinking,” making it especially well suited to doubt, inconclusiveness, skepticism, and contrarian views. Not that it necessarily has to be inconclusive. We deduce from all this that it has something to do with tracking thought. Some have maintained that the essay must have an argument, must instruct; others, that essays must not do either. According to Agnes Repplier, “It offers no instruction, save through the medium of enjoyment, and one saunters lazily along with a charming unconsciousness of effort.” That is one kind of essay, the informal essay, which depends less on reasoning than on authorial voice, what Elizabeth Hardwick called “the soloist’s personal signature flowing through the text.” But what about the formal essay? Doesn’t it too need personal style of a sort?
 
Many have tried to limit the field. William Dean Howells drew a strict border between the essay and the article. William H. Gass forbade the scholarly paper from consideration as an essay. Cynthia Ozick wrote: “A genuine essay has no educational, polemical, or sociopolitical use; it is the movement of a free mind at play. . . . A genuine essay is not a doctrinaire tract or a propaganda effort or a broadside. Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ and Emile Zola’s ‘J’Accuse’ are heroic landmark writings, but to call them essays, though they may resemble the form, is to misunderstand. The essay is not meant for the barricades; it is a stroll through someone’s mazy mind.”
 
Much as I revere Howells, Gass, and Ozick, I respectfully disagree. We are just as privy to Thomas Paine’s mind working through reasons to rebel as we are to his contemporary Hazlitt on the pleasures of hating, and why should a piece of writing be excluded from the essay kingdom simply because it follows a coherent line of reasoning? Even the lightest of familiar essays usually has an implicit armature of argumentation, just as essays that may not be overtly political invariably reflect an underlying politics. There are those who would seek to exclude criticism as a form of essay; but in my own experience, having taught and written a good deal of the stuff, I came to see that the best critics were all cobbling together a highly specific voice or persona through which their evaluations and insights could resound.
 
So, for this anthology I have taken the position of opening it to every type of the beast: the familiar essay, the personal essay, the critical essay, the biographical essay, the dialogue-essay, the humor essay, the philosophical essay, the academic essay, and the polemic. I have included essays that occurred in the form of speeches (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr.), letters (Frederick Douglass), sermons (Jonathan Edwards), papers (Jane Addams), dialogue-essays (Finley Peter Dunne, Oliver Wendell Holmes), newspaper columns (Fanny Fern). While belletrists would like to exclude journalists, I don’t see how I could have left out such remarkable prose stylists from any compendium of the American essay.
 
More, I have sought out essays from every walk of life, not just the ostensibly literary, based on my conviction that every discipline has exceptionally gifted writers who have tried to work out their thoughts on the page: in science (Albert Einstein, Loren Eiseley, Lewis Thomas), geography (John Brinckerhoff Jackson), social work (Jane Addams), education (John Dewey), theology (Paul Tillich), food (M. F. K. Fisher), art criticism (Clement Greenberg), and so on.
 
In the main I have given preference to pieces of writing that began as stand-alone essays, but I have not hesitated to take a chapter from a book if I thought it functioned perfectly as an autonomous essay (Thomas Paine, W. E. B. Du Bois). Another criterion for selection was that the author needed to be American either by birth or emigration.
 
Lest you infer that I have become utterly promiscuous in my embrace of any piece of writing that may lay claim to being an essay, out of some imperialistic land grab, let me reassure you that that is not the case. I have resisted fiction, including pieces that invent the facts or that attempt a hybrid form of fiction and nonfiction. On the other hand, there is room for speculation and imaginative flights of fancy in an essay, as witness James Thurber’s “The Nature of the American Male: A Study of Pedestalism.”
 
It is no accident that some of our greatest fiction writers and poets have also tried their hand at essays with excellent results: Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Whitman, Howells, Twain, James, Dreiser, Cather, Wharton, Fitzgerald, Welty, Mailer, et cetera. A shorter list might be composed of those major American novelists and poets who did not excel at essay writing.
 
Many of the choices here are no-brainers, the names one might expect: Thoreau, Baldwin, Mencken, White, Didion. (I have made it a rule not to repeat selections from my Art of the Personal Essay anthology when dealing with the same author.) But it has also been my special delight to try to rescue from oblivion such estimable figures as John Jay Chapman, Randolph Bourne, and Mary Austin, who seem in danger of sinking into that American night of historical amnesia. In general, blessed or cursed as I am with a historical sense, I have given the nod here to the past over the present—not just out of filial loyalty to the dead, but in the interests of creating “a usable past,” to quote Van Wyck Brooks’s apt phrase. There is another reason: many of these essays not only are in conversation with one another but speak vividly to our present moment by showing how often the same conflicts, over, say, immigration, minority rights, land use, or degree of cultural maturity, keep recurring on the national stage.
 
Consider this anthologizing effort, then, not so much the assertion of a canon as a smorgasbord of treats, a place to begin to sample the endless riches of the American essay. I have tried to include representatives from different ethnicities, genders, regions, and aesthetic camps—not just to be politically correct, but simply because they deserve a place at the table for the quality of their prose. Still, editing an anthology is a chump’s game: no matter how inclusive you may try to be, you will be criticized for various omissions, and some critics may even go through the table of contents with a calculator and total up the statistics, finding, say, too many dead white males. It can’t be helped. Yes, there are regrettable omissions, given the stark reality of page limits: a binding can only hold so much. Where’s Gore Vidal? Oliver Sacks? Philip Roth? (Phillip Lopate, for that matter?) The lyric essay? Fear not, reader: this is only the first of three volumes; the other two are forthcoming and should correct many of the worst omissions. Volume 2, The Golden Age of the American Essay, will focus more intensively on the postwar era, 1945–1970. Volume 3 will be dedicated to the contemporary essay, that is, the twenty-first century.

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4.7 out of 54.7 out of 5
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Top reviews from the United States

Vautrin
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Standard fare. Not worth the money.
Reviewed in the United States on January 22, 2021
The selections are largely uninteresting. Too many of the usual suspects: Jonathan Edwards, Emerson the tiresome, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, and such. How about Camille Paglia, Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe, Darryl Pinckney, Hunter S. Thompson, Greil Marcus, David Roberts, Joyce... See more
The selections are largely uninteresting. Too many of the usual suspects: Jonathan Edwards, Emerson the tiresome, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, and such. How about Camille Paglia, Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe, Darryl Pinckney, Hunter S. Thompson, Greil Marcus, David Roberts, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O''Brien, and Lester Bangs?

You can collect a more interesting selection free of charge via Google. Gore Vidal, "Tarzan Revisited." Roger Angel, "On the Ball."
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David in Durango
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An absolute treasure
Reviewed in the United States on March 15, 2021
As a writer with no talent for writing a book, I do write a lot of essays and this is a very inspiring collection. I love comparing the writing styles of various times in our nation''s history. A very fun read.
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John Manzari
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Need to review content before purchase
Reviewed in the United States on January 12, 2021
Some of the inclusions were excellent; however, overall I did not think the purchase was worthwhile, and the annual update was very disappointing.
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Brandon Westlake
5.0 out of 5 stars
great anthology
Reviewed in the United States on November 20, 2020
Lopate''s anthology is one the best, if not the best, collection of American historical thought. It covers a variety of subjects, showing the breadth and depth of American identity in writing. Much could be said about the specific essays, but in a review of an anthology,... See more
Lopate''s anthology is one the best, if not the best, collection of American historical thought. It covers a variety of subjects, showing the breadth and depth of American identity in writing. Much could be said about the specific essays, but in a review of an anthology, it is important to focus on the choices that are included. Many of these writings give the reader insight into the meaning of being an American; sometimes those conclusions are challenged. The essays show that Americans can be in dialogue with each other, even when divided by decades. There is a balance between all time periods here, which is something that cannot often be said of anthologies. Although many market themselves of being representative of an entire period or genre, they often are not. This anthology balances early American writing with modern American writing, political with cultural.

It''s a volume that in hard copy, over the ensuing years, I see becoming marked, filled with post-it notes and highlights, and annotated with each subsequent read. Lopate does a great service to the reader by including a table of contents also organized by theme. While I think the ultimate decision on how to understand these essays is up to the reader, this does a great job at starting a conversation about the meaning and connection between different writings.

I also liked that fact that many of these writings were ones that don''t necessarily pop into one''s mind. There are some more familiar ones, like Edwards'' sermon, or Whitman on Lincoln, but this is fresh and invigorating, giving the reader something new to process and think about. It was great intellectual play to read through and consider previously unread work by writers I already knew, and to consider the context of these works.

Lopate''s introductory essay also lends itself to consideration, and does a fantastic job of arguing for the merits of American prose.

I cannot speak highly enough of this captivating, engaging collection.
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Jason Park
4.0 out of 5 stars
Why Essays Matter
Reviewed in the United States on December 27, 2020
Has reading an essay ever changed your life? It has mine. “Common Sense” helped me fall further in love with reading history. “A Case for Reparations”, while I don’t fully agree with the conclusions, sent me scrambling for more information on race in America (a... See more
Has reading an essay ever changed your life?

It has mine. “Common Sense” helped me fall further in love with reading history. “A Case for Reparations”, while I don’t fully agree with the conclusions, sent me scrambling for more information on race in America (a quest that continues to this day). Depending on your definition of “essay”, these two might not even count. But that is part of what Phillip Lopate seeks to reconcile in his new book, The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays from Colonial Times to the Present. There is no agreed-upon definition of what an essay is, so Lopate seeks to codify an inclusive definition and set up a canon of sorts. He does not pretend to include all the great essays, but rather a collection that represents some of the greatest short writings (whether delivered in print or in spoken word) ever created in our nation’s history.

Breadth must have also been a key tenet. His collection of one hundred essays includes the most diverse group of authors (ethnically, politically, religiously, etc.) I have ever encountered. Represented within the pages are authors who are white, Black, Chinese, Jewish, and Russian. One-third of the authors are women (pretty impressive considering the publication rate of authors in American history). There were even (at least) two authors with disabilities included. The essays encompass a gigantic range of topics, from political ones to religious or cultural ones, from the death of a pig to the deficiencies of American interior design.

My favorite essays? They were actually all adapted speeches, which Lopate rightly considers to count as essays. MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” is simply terrific and speaks to our world today with as much clarity as his own. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address has always been one of my favorite pieces of writing of all time, and it makes an appearance here. Something new touches me and changes me each time I read it, and this time was no exception. But my favorite part of the entire collection was near the very beginning when I read, for the first time since my early teens, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. While Edwards’ famous sermon sometimes gets a bad rap for being a “hell, fire and brimstone” message (as a matter of fact, it seems to be considered the epitome of it), but there is a huge difference between Edwards’ sermon and what is commonly referred to as a “hell, fire and brimstone” message today: Edwards’ unrelenting focus on God’s grace juxtaposed to his wrath. It is actually the perfect balance for the Christian faith. Take, for example, this excerpt:

"Their foot shall slide in due time, seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.

3. Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of the selves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.
4. That the reason why they are not fallen already, and do not fall now, is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed times comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost. The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this. — “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God” — By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment."

So you would fall into the abyss of your own volition, of your own choice, except for the hand of God keeping you from falling into the pit. That is grace, and Edwards captures it perfectly.

Many other essays were new to me and made a significant impression. Margaret Fuller’s “Woman in the Nineteenth Century” helped me gain a new perspective on women’s roles at a national turning point. Frederick Douglass’s “To My Old Master, Thomas Auld”, although I had read portions before in David Blight’s wonderful biography, was much more impactful to read in full and once again shows grace at work. Sui Sin Far’s “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian” was illuminating in its depiction of what is was like to live as someone with mixed ethnicity (half Chinese) in America. W.E.B. Dubois was fantastic, as always, in “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”. Zora Neale Hurston’s “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”, was raw and powerful in its honesty. E.B. White’s “The Death of a Pig”, was surprisingly beautiful. I saw a new side of James Baldwin in his “Equal in Paris”. And the most arresting of them all might have been (don’t laugh) Nora Ephron’s “A Few Words About Breasts”.
Lopate has constructed something beautiful in this volume, which is large, but one can easily dip in and out of it over time. If you love writing from great writers, or you want a small sampling of some of the greatest American writers, this is a perfect book for you. The diversity and quality of these essays will make you come away changed, no matter which essay (or possibly multiple) does it for you.

I received a review copy of The Glorious American Essay courtesy of Knopf Doubleday Publishing and NetGalley, but my opinions are my own.
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Adrienne Naibauer
5.0 out of 5 stars
Rich in American History
Reviewed in the United States on May 6, 2021
The Glorious American Essay is a must read for anyone who has an interest in American history. It is a compilation of essays, letters, sermons and speeches that have helped to weave the fabric that is the United States. Included are Founding Fathers like Washington,... See more
The Glorious American Essay is a must read for anyone who has an interest in American history. It is a compilation of essays, letters, sermons and speeches that have helped to weave the fabric that is the United States. Included are Founding Fathers like Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton. Writings from authors like Fitzgerald, Hawthorn and Poe. There are activists, scientists, poets, politicians and so many more. This book is such a wealth of information and an excellent addition to any personal library.
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sherman Mullin
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Marvelous selection
Reviewed in the United States on December 25, 2020
The is a permanent addition to my library.
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Ildi
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Wonderful essays
Reviewed in Canada on September 17, 2021
A wide selection of essays from as many authors. Serious, humorous, informative and definitely enjoyable. Great for the busy person who doesn’t always have time for a novel. Great way to wean yourself off all the social media you might be on!
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