Social Critic: Civic Booster

Scholar Andrew Delbanco is a patriot who doesn't wave the flag but uncovers its hidden meanings in America's greatest works of literature

People here at TIME, like most people in the news business, are obsessed with originality. We'd murder to find something "fresh" to write about. So it's admittedly a bit odd that we chose Andy Delbanco as America's best social critic. He is a historian of American literature, a man who looks back for a living, who reads and rereads, even in middle age, books like Moby-Dick and poems by Walt Whitman, stuff most of us leave behind after 11th grade.

But Delbanco reads America and its literature so closely and so well, finding so much meaning in our great books, even...

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