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American Transcendentalism: A History Hardcover – November 13, 2007


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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Gura (Jonathan Edwards) has written possibly the best single volume on the Transcendentalists. Though he analyzes the essays and lectures of Emerson, Fuller and the Alcotts, Gura (a professor of literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) also introduces lesser-known figures who were influenced by their thought. These fellow travelers help explain how the influence of Transcendentalism eventually spread beyond a handful of Boston intellectuals: businessman William B. Greene translated Transcendentalist values into economic thinking with the production of pamphlets like Mutual Banking and Equality, and Eliza Thayer Clapp, a Unitarian Sunday school teacher, integrated Transcendentalist ideas into girls' religious instruction. Gura situates Transcendentalism against the backdrop of American Protestantism, showing how the movement emerged in part from early–19th-century debates about how to read the Bible. He also explores Transcendentalists' involvement in all manner of reform movements, including women's rights and, in the 1850s, abolition. When the Civil War won that battle, they turned away from social engagement for several decades, and the individualism of Transcendentalism unwittingly underwrote the postbellum political economy of market capitalism. Gura's fresh, penetrating analysis will reshapes our understanding American of intellectual history and the 19th century. 8 pages of b&w illus. (Nov.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Philip F. Gura’s bona fides are impeccable. He is professor of American literature and culture at the University of North Carolina and has written books on transcendentalism, early American history, and the American theologian Jonathan Edwards. Far from being one of those ubiquitous, cleverly packaged academic tomes in sheep’s clothing, Gura’s book breathes life into an important period in American history. Even though Gura limits his study to around 300 pages (plus notes), a strategy that results in a "lean, impassioned prose chockablock with anecdote and information" (Washington Post), a couple of critics still wonder if the lay reader’s interest will hold. What is the best reason for us to read this synthesis? "The deepest scholarship, like the greatest art, not only enriches our lives," The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda reminds us, "but also implicitly asks us to examine them, even to cross-examine them."
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (November 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809034778
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809034772
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.4 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #936,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on December 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It's the question that you dread to be asked, if you're a follower of Emerson or Thoreau: "What the heck IS transcendentalism, anyway? Where did it come from?" You stutter and you stammer and you explain what the concept means to you, which is probably not what someone else would say. And you hope that if the inquirer was merely being polite, you won't have to launch into any further details about the influence of German, French, and English writers and philosophers on New England Unitarians in the 1830s. If you're lucky, you'll be able to steer the conversation toward a safer topic. Like the contemporary political scene. Or the war in Iraq.

Phil Gura has made our lives much easier by publishing this history of the American transcendentalist movement. Now all the loose ends are tied up in this one, valuable volume. He traces those European ideas back to their sources, then shows how they surfaced in America. Those were the days when folks read pieces of literature and philosophy in their original languages, and aspiring scholars took the time to translate those works into English. Those were the days when religious debate was a common occurrence, and men of the cloth published opinionated pamphlets that others vocally supported or viciously denigrated in the popular press or in their own esoteric periodicals. American religions were still in a period of evolution and transition, and the Transcendentalists emerged as a result. You'll have to read this book to find out how that happened.

And while you're poring over it, you should also have one of the published compendiums by your side: either Lawrence Buell's "The American Transcendentalists: Essential Writings" or Joel Myerson's "Transcendentalism: A Reader.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In "American Transcendentalism: A History" Philip Gura, has written a learned and detailed account that is both inspiring and critical of an important movement in American thought. Gura is the William Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Many readers have only a vague notion of what the Transcendentalist movement was about together with a notion that Emerson and Thoreau were at its center. Gura shows that the movement was, indeed, quite loose, with many people finding many different meanings and goals in Transcendentalism. He also shows that Emerson was, at least initially, not at the center of the movement and that he differed from many of his fellow Transcendentalists in key ways. The movement flourished from the 1830s to the 1850s, was basically subsumed by the Civil War, and then reappeared in several modified forms in post-War American. Ultimately, it was largely replaced (or modified) as the paradigmatic American philosophy by William James and his fellow pragmatists.

Transcendentalism was a form of philosophical idealism which stressed the immediacy of individual consciousness as a means of understanding what was valuable in experience. In addition to its subjectivism, transcendentalism had a strong universalist component as it found that every person would share essentially the same intuitions of value and meaning if they looked inside themselves. Transcendentalists opposed the empiricism of John Locke, which they found despiritualized people and reality, and they opposed as well conservative Calvinist theology. Broadly speaking, the movement sought a spirituality not tied to the teachings of a specific organized religion or to a claimed revelation.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Joseph S. Maresca HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent work on the Transcendentalist
movement in America. Famous names; such as,
Emerson and Thoreau are contained in the work.
The tireless efforts of Brownson are extolled with
regard to improvements in the plight of laborers.
Margaret Fuller's efforts on behalf of women are set
forth in detail. The reformer, Alcott brought about
new education methods/methodologies.

The presentation is in the
tradition of deep religious and philosophical
thinking in Europe and America. The 1850s brought about
a considerable opposition to slavery and this aspect
is highlighted in the book. The transcendentalist,
Ellis spoke about the origination of ideas via
Divine Revelation. The scientist, Dr. Benjamin Fain
developed this connection in his work-
Creation Ex Nihilo.

The Transcendentalists worked from Biblical associations
to create unique utopian reforms. Emerson believed in the
notion of a primitive universal language to facilitate
commuication.

Charles Fourier envisioned a grand Ediface of Association
consisting of a medieval-like elongated building with
multiple stalls lining the front. This style of architecture
epitomized a unique housing arrangement integrally related
to the form of social organization within.

There is a unique discussion on spontaneous reason in
the "essential nature of things" . This comports with
life itself. Much thought is inspirational and spontaneous
in nature and implementation. The work is a marvel for
students of the American Religious Experience , as well
as American History buffs and philosophical thinkers.
In addition, the work has a number of very realistic
portraits of famous transcendentalists and important
edifices of the period. It is well worth the
price of admission.
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