Deerslayer Helped Define Us All

James Fenimore Cooper is one of those 19th century writers you find in complete and undisturbed sets in the locked bookcases of old inns. Boys read him, American-studies majors are forced to read him, and a movie of The Last of the Mohicans has been dredged up from the sunken Atlantis of his reputation. But his adult audience is long gone.

It's easy to see why. His humor is torture, and his style is as fussy and clumsy as an awkward hostess. But beneath the musty packaging is a moral universe we still inhabit. Though the Mohicans have vanished with the...

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