Designed for the general reader, this set presents literature not as a simple inventory of authors or titles but rather as a historical and cultural field viewed from a wide array of contemporary perspectives. The set, which is "new historicist" in its approach to literary criticism, endorses the notion that not only does history affect literature, but literature itself informs history.
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"If the thought of purchasing yet another multivolume set dealing with American history or American literature gives one pause, the fact that these volumes intertwine both disciplines in a series of well-edited, expertly written, and highly readable essays should allay any concerns. Any work dealing with either discipline cannot avoid the other (the preface of the second set notes "the study of literature and the study of history have always been mutually complementary endeavors"), and this set provides the reader with a unique perspective on the cultural milieu of a growing nation."
The sets give balanced viewpoints and devote a considerable number of entries to works by or about women (The Awakening, Poems of Emily Dickinson); African Americans (Blake; or, The Huts of America; The Two Offers); and Indians (American Indian stories, An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man) in addition to the requisite entries dealing with works by Hawthorne, Irving, Melville, Twain, and Whitman. All entries end with an up-to-date bibliography-most listing both primary and secondary works-plus cross-references to other entries within the set.
--Booklist, May 2006
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