In his introduction, Rubin, general editor of The History of Southern Literature, faces squarely the question he knows many will ask when confronted with this monumental study--""Why Southern literature?"" His answer: ""Because it is,"" thereby echoes Mallory's reply when asked why he wanted to scale Mount Everest. Readers and mountain climbers should note: conquering either The History of Southern Literature or the Himalayas is an exhausting undertaking and best attempted in easy stages. More than 50 contributors are represented in this massive survey of the writing of the American South. Nothing of comparable magnitude has been attempted on the subject since Jay B. Hubbell's The South in American Literature, 1607-1900 was published three decades ago. Inclusivity, not selectivity, has been the criterion in putting together this study. Not only are the most famous of the Southern writers--Byrd, Poe, Twain, Faulkner, Wolfe, Wright and Robert Penn Warren before 1950; Welty, Agee, Styron, Capote, McCullers, O'Connor, Percy and Ellison since--examined in detail and their accomplishments weighed, but those of lesser rank as well: Glasgow, Cabell, Langston Hughes, et al. Only Tennessee Williams is inexplicably absent. In addition, a cast of supernumerary novelists, playwrights, poets, essayists and belletrists crowd the stage. Many of their names will, surely, be familiar only to members of their hometown literary societies. Both Black and White literature are explored, and such areas as ""Southern Popular Fiction"" (Margaret Mitchell, Frances Parkinson Keyes) receive more attention than they rightfully deserve. Such comprehensiveness will doubtlessly prove a boon to scholars in the field; it will, with equal certainty, be more than a little daunting to readers whose interest is anything less than obsessive. According to Rubin, the contributors were granted great latitude in their choice of subject and areas of emphasis. It could be because of this that the cumulative effect of The History is somewhat confusing. Chronology is often catch-as-catch-can and editorial viewpoints sometimes war with one another. But taken all in all, this is a valuable, if irritating, addition to the scholarships of regional literature and one that should hold a preeminent position for many years to come.