Books: American Masterpieces

AMERICAN RENAISSANCE—F. O. Mathiessen—Oxford ($5).

Between 1850 and 1855, five Americans published seven books which made that half-decade the most explosive in American cultural history. The men: Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman. The books: Representative Men, The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, Moby Dick, Pierre, Walden, Leaves of Grass. "You might search all the rest of American literature without being able to collect a group of books equal to these in imaginative vitality."

So says Francis Otto Matthiessen, an Associate Professor of History and Literature at Harvard. His American Renaissance is...

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