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Walt Whitman's America


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David S. Reynolds is Distinguished Professor of American Literature and American Studies at Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Born and raised in Rhode Island, he received his B.A. from Amherst College and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He has previously taught at Rutgers University, New York University, Barnard College, and Northwestern University. He is the author of the monumental Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville, winner of the Christian Gauss award. His other publications include Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America;George Lippard; and George Lippard, Prophet of Protest: Writintgs of an American Radical, 1822-1854 (edited anthology). He is the editor of George Lippard's novel The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall and the author of numerous articles and reviews in the field of American literature and culture, including "Of Me I Sing: Whitman in His Time" (The New York Times Book Review).


Whitman, the Good Gray Poet, was born into a time when slavery and the new market economy had just begun to transform the nation. Reynolds (Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville, LJ 4/15/88) endeavors to be "historically correct rather than politically correct" in examining this period and its players, and he succeeds. Weaving together primary and secondary historical sources, he reveals the diverse influences on the poet of politics, society, literary and cultural trends, science, and religion. Whitman's complex views on race and slavery, his "omnisexuality," and his conflict between conservatism and radicalism, for example, are better understood in this complete context. Whether as journalist, sensationalist, fiction writer, or poet, Whitman comes across as "a writer for all times," focusing on the pulse of the nation and socially significant causes that span centuries: prison reform, women's rights, democracy, and individualism. A highly readable, well-researched cultural history of the period. [BOMC selection.]‘Cathy Sabol, Northern Virginia Community Coll., Manassas

Poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892), raised by a blunt, taciturn father who failed as a housebuilder and by a penny-pinching, barely literate mother, identified with working-class culture as he pursued a job-hopping, insecure career as printer, schoolteacher and journalist. A New Yorker, he projected his inner demons into gory, sensationalistic fiction, then turned to bitter political invective and slashing political verse before blossoming as the democratic populist bard of Leaves of Grass. In an engrossing biographical study that roots Whitman firmly in his time and makes him more relvant to ours, Reynolds (Beneath the American Renaissance) investigates and celebrates a poet of rapidly urbanizing America, of women's equality, of sexual energy and of a ``physical spirituality'' that yoked the mundane and the mystical. Reynolds balances the familiar image of the visionary optimist against the disillusioned social critic who became increasingly pessimistic about an American society rife with corruption, class division and spiritual emptiness. Illustrated. BOMC, QPB and History Book Club selections. (Apr.)

"Remarkably informative...I marked on page after page things about Whitman and his America I never knew before."
--Alfred Kazin, The New York Times Book Review

"Exhaustive...fascinating...an evocative portrait."
--Washington Post Book World

"Reynolds stands alone in showing, almost day by day, the finest roots of Whitman's genius...His scholarship lights Whitman from within."
--Philadelphia Inquirer

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