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Sunday, November 25, 2007

'American Transcendentalism' watch: Globe review.

The Boston Globe offers an indifferent review of Philip Gura's new book, American Transcendentalism: A History. Philip McFarland says that, "despite its compact form in a text of just over 300 pages, Gura's expert account is comprehensive." That's as far as his praise goes. The review makes McFarland seem out of his depth, however. Consider the final paragraph:

The general reader encountering so complex a story, unclear perhaps about terms left undefined ("positivism," "Fichtean idealism"), awash in proper names of barely distinguishable minor clerics and the unmemorable long titles of their numerous theological writings, may wonder whether the professor's history is comprehensive to a fault. True, it is not a primer. It is not an introduction to the movement or a joint biography of its major figures: Emerson, Ripley, Thoreau, Parker, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody. Such books do exist, however. And despite arresting passages in "American Transcendentalism" — concerning Brook Farm, Alcott's Fruitlands, Fuller's amazing, absorbing life — that same general reader whom many of us are may long for the simpler, more focused treatment of the subject that this thoroughgoing study never set out to provide. The serious student and scholar, meanwhile, should find in such comprehensiveness all that is wished for.

In other words: This intellectual history frustrates me because I don't want to read an intellectual history. What a let-down!

("New England revolution," Philip McFarland, Boston Globe 11.25.07; earlier "American Transcendentalism" watch, 11.17.07)

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 25 November 2007 at 6:49 PM

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