by Robert M. Crunden ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1994
Reworking a book first published abroad, Crunden (American Civilization/Univ. of Texas at Austin) provides readers in these United States with a useful overview of their cultural history. The narrative presents American creative endeavor as gradually increasing in scale and growing more integrated into the world. Crunden (American Salons, 1992, etc.) begins with ""local culture,"" looking in turn at Puritan Boston, Enlightened Philadelphia, and the Virginia of the Founding Fathers. Discussing the subsequent era of North, South, and West, he shifts his emphasis from culture's religious and political dimensions toward the fine arts. Especially strong pages treat Washington Irving and John James Audubon. Somewhat scanting the Civil War, Crunden moves quickly to a discussion of the national culture that found progressives and pragmatists tempering capitalist excesses. Mini-biographies -- e.g., of William and Henry James, of Alice Hamilton -- convey much information. Paradoxically, the emergence of international modernism crowns Crunden's narrative of the specifically American. Charles Ives and Frank Lloyd Wright, we find, were following European leads by formalizing indigenous national styles. The author further gestures toward an apotheosis of the American with a final section on ""cosmopolitan culture."" A profile of William F. Buckley Jr. nicely encapsulates the emergence of a ""conservative hegemony,"" while an examination of T. Coraghessan Boyle's fiction as exemplary post-60s literature works surprisingly well. Crunden represents contemporary academic thought by rehashing David Lehman's denunciations of Paul de Man and followers -- this is a letdown in the wake of his superb account of transatlantic intellectual exchange around the time of the Second World War. But this history aspires to start, not finish, debates over coverage; its risky choices work to stimulate rather than to conceal. Leavening common information with uncommon insights and skillfully managing -- without directly addressing -- the difficulties of its mission, Crunden's work should provoke fine conversations on what Americans might want to say next.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994
Page Count: 288
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994
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