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Alfred Kazin's America: Critical and Personal Writings Hardcover – September 30, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Intended as "a resource, rather than as a monument" this posthumous anthology traces a biographical arc through the work of one of America's finest literary critics, interspersing selections from almost all of his major critical works (On Native Grounds; God and the American Writer; etc.) with the remarkable memoirs published in his middle later years (A Walker in the City; Writing Was Everything; etc.). Few critics lend themselves to such integration, but as Solotaroff's extensive, nuanced introduction explains, Kazin (1915-1998) "wrote less as a literary critic than as a writer possessed by literature as moral testimony and lived history." The collection starts with his childhood in a provincial Brooklyn ghetto, where his work-dogged mother would leave her sewing machine only long enough to gaze briefly and lovingly out of the window at the world, and impoverished friends found transcendence in poetry and politics. Here, too, the teenaged Alfred, having already seized upon Blake and Hemingway, read the Gospel and found in the co-opted figure of "our Yeshua" a fulfillment of Jewish longing and "another writer I could instinctively trust." Then come Kazin's beginnings in the brave new and largely gentile literary world of the '30s; the months spent at the New York Public Library researching the brilliant study of American realism that made his career; the rise and decline of the literary left and the moral disillusionments following the war. The book ends with his canny but troubled assessment of letters in the early 1980s, the end of the American century. Kazin's great faculty as both a critic and a memoirist was his passionate belief in the voice on the page as a means of communicating historical experience. Here is a writer, and a reader, we can trust.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker

The literary critic Alfred Kazin chose America as his subject, and his intellectual awakening is itself something of an American legend. As a young man during the Depression, in the "delicious isolation" of the New York Public Library, he immersed himself in Howells, Faulkner, and others, eventually producing "On Native Grounds," a landmark study of American realism and modernism in which he displayed the infallible nose for a writer's best work that distinguished his long career. Later, he turned his critical eye inward, producing three memoirs about his Jewish boyhood in Brownsville and his friendships with famous contemporaries. Kazin died in 1998, and Ted Solotaroff's selection of his work is a fitting tribute: a book that will be a starting point for further reading, both of Kazin and of the native writers to whom he devoted himself.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (September 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066213436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066213439
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,006,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This anthology contains excerpts from Kazin's memoir writing, from his critical work on American Literature, from his essays on literary personalities. I was most surprised by personal essays on Saul Bellow, Edmund Wilson, and Hannah Arendt. I have read much about each of these figures but Kazin's descriptions of them bring new insight. His description of a walk across Brooklyn Bridge with a young ambitious Saul Bellow provides an insight into the remarkable powers of observation of everyday realities- a characteristic which would be one of the great strengths of Bellow's work. Kazin in his praise for Wilson's Civil War volume 'Patriotic Gore' helps us better understand the great strength of this most independent critic. Kazin too takes on in this work the major figures of American nineteenth century Literature and he makes us better understand the greatness of Melville, Emerson, Hawthorne, Whitman, Dickinson. Kazin as walker in the city as memoirist of his childhood in Brownsville is never dull, is always providing observations and reflections which lead to more inspired perception of literary works, and the world.
I deeply enjoyed this work and attained through it new understanding of great American literary creators I have read and studied before.
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