This is easily the best study of American life and letters by an Englishman since D. H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature. Stephen Spender, of course, is a shrewd essayist and a fine poet, so he immediately transcends the familiar academic style. Sensitivity, worldliness and wit are evident everywhere without interruption. In a relatively short space, he compresses a great deal of history on both sides of the Atlantic; the differences between the English and American sensibilities being rendered almost as a series of pensees, but with stunning continuity and flow. The theme is stated directly: ""A hundred years ago, England had over America what Emerson called 'the immense advantage.' American thoughts, he wrote, were English thoughts. Today it would be as true to say that America has the advantage over Europe. European thoughts are American thoughts."" From there he charts the cultural reversal, first with Emerson and Whitman and the New England tradition, then with the prediction of Henry James that America would either have to remain provincial or produce an aristocratic plutocracy on a vast and sumptuous scale. But America did neither, the intensity of industrialization creating what we call the modernist temper (Eliot and Pound, Fitzgerald and Hemingway), as well as an agonizing sense of contemporaneity, the hegemony of constant change, ""so that today Americans go to Europe and England not in order to immerse themselves in the past civilization, but to distance themselves from the American self-involvement."" Bittersweet reflections from which we'll be quoting for years.