A scholar's bold and brilliant, albeit detached, effort to determine the degree to which Americans can achieve self-realization (or secular redemption) in a nation whose primary values are economic. Drawing on Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, Whitman, and other icons of US culture, Anderson (Fellow/New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU; The Imperial Self, 1971) sets his stage by pointing out that, unlike their European counterparts, Americans have lacked the traditions and institutions (family or otherwise) that subtly define personal choices. Reacting to the less coherent society--based on monetary profit and acquisition--in which they lived, the Transcendentalists, Anderson argues, celebrated a singular sort of individualism that, among other attributes, rejected authority. In Anderson's opinion, neither the Transcendentalists' indulgently egocentric philosophy nor its corollaries (popularized by literary disciples) offer more than the cold comfort of ""inclusive disaffiliation."" Indeed, the author concludes, personal growth can be achieved only by creating a state of genuine community and not by isolating oneself in cerebral prisons that effectively deny the humanity of fellow beings. In offering his deceptively simple dialectic, Anderson displays an insightful, frequently dazzling grasp of the New World's intellectual history--one whose legacies (unstated by the ever-formal author) encompass a widespread preoccupation with self-esteem, plus essentially chilling injunctions to do your own thing and not lay your trip on others. A thoughtful, expansive appraisal of what market values may or may not be worth in the great ends of--and real business of living in--latter--day America.