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Return Passages: Great American Travel Writing, 1780-1910 Hardcover – December 11, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0300082364 ISBN-10: 0300082363 Edition: First American Edition
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Ziff, a professor of English, analyzes five U.S. travel writers who were outstanding contributors to the genre in the period between the end of the Revolution and the outbreak of World War I. His scholarly but not dry examination of the travel writing of these five men is underscored by the fact that, although travel writing has been very popular with both writers and the reading public, it remains "critically undervalued." As rectification, Ziff evaluates the work of John Ledyard (1752-89), whose considerable reputation rests on his account of Captain John Cook's third voyage; John Lloyd Stephens (1805-52), whose books about Mayan civilization are still regarded as classics; Bayard Taylor (1825-78), who established travel writing as a "legitimate literary activity"; Mark Twain (1835-1910), whose first book was a travel book and sold better than any of his novels; and Henry James (1843-1916), who insisted that "an American writer had no choice but to deal with Europe if he wished to be complete." For anyone interested in the history of travel literature. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"A deeply intelligent, chin-in-hand rumination on the nature of American travel-writing." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"A scholarly work, [that] is, blessedly, a lively one, well written, intelligently argued, and occasionally quite funny." -- Bill Eichenberger, Columbus Dispatch

"Return Passages could well become that eighth wonder, the thoughtful academic book with a large lay popularity." -- James H. Bready, Baltimore Sun

"Such an engaging collection of facts and anecdotes that reading it seems somehow relaxing. . . . a combination of instruction and delight." -- Michael Gorra, New York Times

"Ziff makes a major contribution to our understanding of American travel writing…[A] shrewd and learned study." -- Nicholas Howe, New Republic

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First American Edition edition (December 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300082363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300082364
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,827,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Any lover of travel writing will surely love this account of how it developed as a genre in America. Ziff lays out a compact, clearly structured exploration of five American travel writers and their individual impact on American literature and overseas travel.
Ziff had to clue me in to the fact that travel writing has been the steady number 2 selling genre (after the bible) in this country since colonial times. I also didn't know anything about Ledyard, Taylor, and Stephens, and found their adventures fascinating.
Like many, I knew quite a bit about Twain's life and his travels, but his life was so rich that it was helpful to examine his later years solely through a more narrow travel-writing lens, as Ziff does. Twain's dilemna reads all too clear: he hated to be away from Hartford, but he couldn't afford the upkeep on his mansion there, so he had to move his family to cheap, 19th-century Europe. Significantly, it was the rivers of Germany that got him thinking of his riverboat days and eventually inspired him to write Life on the Mississippi. But even as he was reminiscing about his American source material, he couldn't return: the bulk of his much-needed money came not from his fiction but from his travel books, dispatches, and especially from his international lecturing; so when he had reached a good age to settle into a thoughtful retirement, he was forced to go on a punishing global book tour.
I omitted to read the section on Henry James because I personally think he's an overated blowhard, but that's my poison. The four sections on Ledyard, Stephans, Taylor, and Twain made this short work more than worth my time.
So, if you've never raced home from work just to pick up any book published by Yale University Press, try this one.
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