When Parrington's Pulitzer Prize-winning history of American ideas was first published, Henry Seidel Canby wrote, "This is a work of the first importance, lucid, comprehensive, accurate as sound scholarship should be, and also challenging, original in its thinking, shrewd, and sometimes brilliant." Alfred Kazin has called Main Currents in American Thought "the most ambitious single effort of the Progressive mind to understand itself."
In the Foreword to this new edition, David W. Levy argues that Parrington's intellectual survey "will stand as a model for venturesome scholars for years to come. Readers and scholars of the rising generation may not follow Parrington's particular judgments or point of view, but it is hard to believe that they will not still be captivated and inspired by his sparkle, his breadth, his daring, and the ardor of his political commitment."
Volume I, The Colonial Mind, 1620-1800, treats such influential figures as John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Samuel Sewall, Increase and Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Tom Paine, and Thomas Jefferson.