Not an easy book to report briefly, as it is compact, close writing, a book to study a bit at a time, to ponder, a book some will quarrel with, others will find crystalising their own conclusions about modern American prose writing -- and all will agree is stimulating and provocative. Kazin starts his study with the late-blooming of realism in the career of Howells, trailed by Garland and Ed Howe. The class struggle, the frontier, the agrarian bitterness shifted thought towards naturalism, then -- with the turn of the century -- the genteel tradition put up a last fight. It took a Dreer to explode it, and to open the way for the muckrakers. Next came the reign of socialist intellectuals and the spirit of experimental inquiry, vivified by such scholars as Veblen and Dewey, humanized by the Chicago and the Greenwich Village groups. The post war period brought Mencken as master of the revels, Anderson and Lewis as new realists, liberal criticism, the ""lost generation"" group -- and the element of social purpose when the economic crisis took hold. A quotable, challenging book -- but not popular reading.