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American Studies Paperback – November 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (November 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374529000
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374529000
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,330,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The success of The Metaphysical Club, which won last year's Pulitzer Prize for History, surprised few regular readers of the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, where Menand has contributed many of the most thoughtful review-essays of the last decade. This book collects some of the most cogent and clearly articulated of those pieces, and reaffirms Menand's position as a preeminent historian of American liberalism's cultural incarnations. The opening pieces, on William James's depression (or "sadness") and Oliver Wendell Holmes's "bettabilitarianism," further the brilliant profile of pragmatism developed by Menand in The Metaphysical Club. The review-essay "T.S. Eliot and the Jews" is a sharp extension of the debate surrounding Anthony Julius's T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form (and it might just entice someone to bring Menand's Eliot monograph, Discovering Modernism, back into print). Considerations of Richard Wright and Pauline Kael offer assessments of their achievements, showing why they still matter. The long New Yorker pieces on Al Gore and architect Maya Lin show Menand's rigorous disinterestedness working less well in the context of interview journalism, but essays that portray Hustler's Larry Flynt and evangelist Jerry Falwell as "working opposite sides of the same street," or exploring Christopher Lasch's flirtations with populism, throw that technique's power, and Menand's mastery of it, into bold relief.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

An intellectual archaeologist, Menand dusts off old assumptions and shores up sagging intellectual foundations in order to solve various aesthetic and cultural mysteries. His pleasure in his work is palpable, which is why The Metaphysical Club [BKL My 15 01], a seemingly weighty book about William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and John Dewey, won the Pulitzer Prize. Menand is still intrigued with these fellows, and they do appear in this splendid essay collection, but his interests are many, his reading extensive and deep, and his critical facilities exhilaratingly versatile. In essays remarkable for their discernment, wit, and erudition, Menand sure-handedly dissects the work of T. S. Eliot, Richard Wright, Norman Mailer, and, most passionately, Pauline Kael. He also offers a piquant history of television and a dead-on analysis of the New Yorker and, in his most electrifying critical adventures, casts new light on rock and roll, Rolling Stone, and the marketplace; and, in "Lust in Action: Jerry Falwell and Larry Flynt," he discerns a peculiarly symbiotic relationship between televangelists and porn. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Louis Menand, professor of English at Harvard University, is the author of "The Metaphysical Club," which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in History. A longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Constant Weeder on August 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
Menand, Louis, American Studies. New York: FSG, 2002.

The topics covered by this uneven group of essays run from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., to Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell. Menand also has things to say about William James, T.S. Eliot, The New Yorker, Bill Paley of CBS, Pauline Kael, Christopher Lasch, Maya Lin, and "the mind of" Al Gore. Although I did a good deal of underlining--a lot of it trying to make sense of his comments about Christopher Lasch's philosophy against liberalism--there is something about Menand's conclusory style that is off-putting, as though his opinions are the only valid ones. For example, he claims that Justice Holmes "was utterly, sometimes fantastically, indifferent to the real-world effects of his decisions," citing the infamous "stop-look-and-listen" ruling concerning automobiles at train intersections. I think there is plenty of evidence otherwise, and I'm reminded of the famous "yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater" opinion in Lochner v. U.S.

At his best, Menand can summarize a view in very few, well chosen words: "It is easy to appreciate [Maya Lin's] works as environmental installations....natural materials shaped in topological contours. It takes a little longer to see that they are also refinements on destruction...the Vietnam Memorial is made by repairing a large gash in the earth." He also reminds us of things important to remember: that Al Gore wrote his senior thesis at Harvard on the impact of television on the presidency, concluding that "because television loves one face over many faces its effect has been to increase the president's political power at the expense of Congress's.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Charles M. Wyzanski on August 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had only read a couple of the essays in this collection when they first appeared in the NYReview of Books, the New Yorker, and elsewhere. As the amorphous title of the book suggests, its sum is not much greater than its parts, and yet I found most of the parts completely engaging and very rewarding. The pieces on Justice Holmes, James Bryant Conant, Al Gore, Bill Paley, and the New Yorker magazine itself were perhaps the best, although I admit that it's pretty much Bos-Wash stuff and may not appeal to a mass readership. One reviewer here has called the writing "stilted." I could not agree less. Although as of this year a member of the Harvard faculty, he, like his colleague Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (also a contributor to the New Yorker), avoids academic jargon and writes most felicitously and well. I'm not sure about the discipline of "historical studies" but Menand is certainly one of its best practitioners.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Lange on May 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
American Studies is a compilation of essays on contemporary American lives by the wonderful essayist and critic Louis Menand. What a treasure this man is!

He writes on subjects like William James, Pauline Kael, Al Gore, James Conant, and Norman Mailer with wit, insight, and surprising originality.

Menand is the kind of writer people will be reading 100 years from now, and readers then will say, "wow, this guy really nailed it." Give yourself the treat of this wonderful book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By "cronopiofama" on July 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
I was lead to this book after coming across Menand's recent essay in the New Yorker, "Bad Comma," which was a delight to read and could very well be a masterpiece of contemporary criticism. I confess the only piece I've read from this collection so far is the one on Pauline Kael, and it didn't strike me as being bloodless. As a matter of fact, I laughed out loud several times while reading it at Barnes & Noble earlier tonight. Menand's prose is graceful, engaging, insightful, and (as already indicated by my laughter) at times quite humorous. I say "at times quite humorous," but his wit, in paragraph after paragraph, is almost always on display. I don't agree with everything he says--for example, I AM drawn to reread Kael's best work, such as her essays on "Bonnie and Clyde" and "A Clockwork Orange"--but disagreeing on this score doesn't make the experience of reading him less enjoyable. Pnotley, in the review titled "Bloodless," asks, "Isn't there anything he [Menand] really likes?" Well, for one, he really likes James Agee's movie reviews for The Nation. Perhaps the finesse with which Menand fleshes out and dissects ideas is what Pnotley finds so bloodless: too much of the surgeon with his scalpel, that sort of thing. I can see that, but I can also see that he helps keep the patient alive and healthy. His criticism is relevant; it reinvigorates the world of letters.
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32 of 47 people found the following review helpful By on December 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Collections of essays by intelligent, thoughtful people are always fun, or should be. But this is not the feeling one gets on reading this collection of essays by Louis Menand. This book is a reprint of essays that have appeared in such worthy journals as The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and the New Republic. We start with essays on William James and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Then we discuss T.S. Eliot's anti-semitism, Richard Wright and James Conant, as well as the New Yorker, and modern television. We read essays criticizing Pauline Kael and Christopher Lasch, a deflation of Larry Flynt, a look at the mind of Al Gore, and finally a piece on Vietnam War Memorial architect Maya Lin.
Yet compared to works by such other New Yorker and NYRB alumni such as Joan Didion, Renata Adler, and Anthony Lane, this book is a rather bloodless work. People who have read Menand in the past will regret the absence of his deflation of Camille Paglia, or his critical review of "Saving Private Ryan," as well as his dissections of such movies as "Independence Day," and "The Wings of the Dove." But the problem is not simply selection. In his informative essay on Lin he notes her view that one reason that her work is so emotionally effective is that she herself maintained her emotional detachment, and her apolitical views.
This view seems to have infected Menand's prose, with disappointing results. On the one hand Menand's review of Pauline Kael is not as memorable as Adler's ruthless polemic against her. (He writes that her reviews were not really "rereadable." Sometimes, sometimes not. Nor true, in my view, of her reviews of "A Clockwork Orange," or "The Godfather, Part Two.") His essay on television is much more complacent than Mark Crispin Miller.
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