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Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 671 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 19, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679767096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679767091
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 3.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The greatest American poet is portrayed in this monumental biography as an essential American, not an isolated mystic but a man formed in large measure by his rapidly changing society. Drawing on his diligent research, and on his experience writing the monumental work Beneath the American Renaissance, noted scholar David S. Reynolds conclusively demonstrates the profound impact the popular culture of his day had on Whitman's awakening as an artist. This copious (nearly 700 page) volume tells the story of 19th-century America as well as the story of the Whitman himself. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Literary historian Reynolds's biography of Whitman examines the poet within the broader social and cultural context of 19th-century America.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

David S. Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author or editor of 15 books, including "Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America," "Walt Whitman's America," "John Brown, Abolitionist," "Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson," "George Lippard," "Faith in Fiction," and "Beneath the American Renaissance." He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Ambassador Book Award, the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has been interviewed some 80 times on radio and TV, on shows including NPR's "Fresh Air," "Weekend Edition," and "The Diane Rehm Show," ABC's "The John Batchelor Show," and C-SPAN's "After Words," Brian Lamb's "Book Notes," and "Book TV." He is a regular contributor to "The New York Times Book Review" and is included in "Who's Who in America," "Who's Who in American Education," and "Who's Who in the World." David Reynolds was born in Providence, Rhode Island. For much of his childhood he lived in West Barrington, Rhode Island in a home attached to the Nayatt Point Lighthouse (built in 1828). His father, Paul Reynolds, sold life insurance and later became an artist. His mother, Adelaide Koch Reynolds, was an artist, art teacher, and sometime illustrator who designed newspapers ads and Hallmark greeting cards. David Reynolds attended the Providence Country Day School, where he later taught for a year after his graduation from college. He received the B.A. magna cum laude from Amherst College and the Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He has taught American literature and American Studies at Northwestern University, Barnard College, New York University, Rutgers University, Baruch College, and the Sorbonne-Paris III. Since 2006, he has been at the CUNY Graduate Center. Besides writing and teaching, he enjoys songwriting and tennis as hobbies.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 13 customer reviews
This book reveals the other sides of Walt Whitman.
The author develops and presents his ideas with clarity.
Loves the View
This too is interesting because this really did work.
T. McLaughlin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Kirk McElhearn VINE VOICE on December 5, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm a latecomer to Whitman's work, only really discovering it in the past decade. (I'm in my 40s.) It was Reynold's book Beneath the American Renaissance that prodded me in this direction, and, naturally, I wanted to read his more complete take on Walt.

What stands out in this book is the way Reynolds weaves together not only Whitman's life but also the context of the period, which makes it so much easier to understand what Walt was saying. Reynolds is without doubt the best explainer of this period, as it applies to literature, and reading this book is both a pleasure and an enlightening experience, providing a history lesson at the same time as it looks at Whitman's writings.

A must-read book for any Whitman fan.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By rchand@tje1.com on August 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
I found this work extremely entertaining. It was like being back in mid-19th century America. It seemed to make the era come alive with real personalities and real historical character. To understand the complexities of this genious and his time, this book is a must. It seemed to be refreshingly candid and forth-right without the usual bias one expects on the subject. There was much more to the man and his times than his sexuality. This book reveals the other sides of Walt Whitman. You can feel his pain with him as you share in his America
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Rea Andrew Redd on December 23, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Reynolds' Walt Whitman is a fellow who absorbed his culture, tried to save it, but finally sold himself to it. The other Whitman biographies I've read always had a scholarly ax to grind; this one seems, not to cut away Walt Whitman to a one dimensional person, but to find Walt Whitman living a multi-dimensional life in an urbanizing, industrializing, upwardly literate American society. I thorougly enjoyed the chapters on mid-century American Culture; but was looking for an itinerary of hospital visits that Whitman made. It appears that the author appropriately limited himself to what Whitman reported of his own activity as a hospital nurse and to what few recollections of patients.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By T. McLaughlin on February 18, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Whitman was a difficult man and poet. Obviously, if it were not for the poetry, no one would think about him at all today, but oddly what makes this book so good is its long look at 19th century America through Whitman's life experience rather than his words. There are not many quotes from the poems and they're not really missed, in fact some of the best are not even mentioned. It's interesting to compare the life work of a poet and the age he lived in, especially someone like Walt Whitman, so sensitive and hopeful, at the same time living in the what is, for most of us, alternate universe of same sex attraction. Anyway, one's liking or disliking of Whitman does not affect one's enjoyment of this book, which is, as the title tells us, about America during Whitman's life. All of the major topics of the book: politics, homoeroticism, intellectual and religious movements, the growth of the cities, family life, have infinite possibilities and Reynolds does a good job of presenting an appetizing amount of information. He has a very balanced approach to topics quite liable to unbalance an author, I'm thinking especially of homosexuality and politics of the 1850s. And it was very interesting to know that censorship of Whitman was directed at the heterosexual images in the poems. One tends to forget how frigid society was in the Victorian age, how far it is from then to now and Howard Stern.

Reynolds also does a good job of describing Whitman's own ambitions and efforts at persona management. Poets are now so unpopular and so much in a realm of their own that we are surprised that the father of modern poetry hoped to be quoted frequently and by all types.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on June 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
I came to this through Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson (American History) in which David Reynolds showed himself to be a gifted writer. I was not disappointed in reading this earlier work. While I waited for this copy, I read Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples, which, I also recommend, but if you read it, read it after this book, not before it as I did.

Reynolds shows how Whitman was of his culture and why he is an authentic American voice. Whitman gave the new country a new poetry, a poetry that broke the bounds of format and content. He gave poetry zest, a proud "I" and what we consider today, a healthy view of the body and sex. The cultural biography concept is most appropriate for this poet.

Reynolds draws the picture of the world that shaped Whitman, and then the greatly changed world following the Civil War. Following President Polk, the nation seemed to be drifting. There was economic and political turmoil. The long festering problem of slavery was coming to a boil. It was in this period that Whitman did the work we remember him for.

Reynolds reminds us that in Whitman's time, the continued unification of the states was not a settled issue. Whitman wrote of the unity of all the people and parts of the country. He wrote that he was a poet for slave and master, the man and the woman. When he wrote that he Heard America Singing and named all the classes and their endeavors, he was extolling the united country.
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