A museum-goer who wants to catch up with the recent reevaluation of early American modernism can get the equivalent of a course of lectures here. Davidson (The Story of American Painting) takes due note of Milton Brown's determinative American Painting from the Armory Show to the Depression (1955, rev. 1970), and of recent exhibits of, and writings on, the various modernist strains; then he provides a synthesis of those formulations, amplified with biographical/descriptive/ interpretive entries on the individual artists (some of whom, indeed, eluded earlier compilers). Apart from finding American ""attitudes"" vaguely different from European (""less disturbingly nihilistic,"" and such; ""more moderate,"" overall), Davidson does little to distinguish American modernist work from the European avantgarde; and he does not even address its importance--or, for that matter, the relative importance of the various artists. This is strictly road-map art history. As such, however, it's reliable enough; here are the Stieglitz Group (Hartley, Weber, Walkowitz, Marin, O'Keeffe), the Arensberg Circle (European and US dadaists), the Color Painters (both the Synchronists and the Delaunay adherents), the Precisionists (Sheeler, foremost), and a catch-all, coast-to-coast category labeled The Independents. To anyone versed in the subject, the observations will seem rudimentary (""The atmosphere Stieglitz created in his galleries was not one of a noisy market, but rather of a cloistered shrine""); and the discussion of the works is on the eyeball art-appreciation level (""In the Fields of Grain As Seen From a Train nothing is seen of the train itself, no trace of tracks or smoke. Dove has caught the lyricism of the rolling fields and sloping horizon as seen from the train window by an unseen passenger""). But this sort of thing is welcomed by those who seek a foothold (it's not very different from what John Canaday provides for Old Masters); and the breadth of the work--replete with unfamiliar names--will be eye-opening for most.