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The Glorious American Essay

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Member Reviews

This book is aptly named; it is truly glorious. It contains such a wide range of essays and covers works from Colonial Times to now. It is such a treat and will be loved by readers with inquiring minds. It is extraordinarily generous as well, clocking in at over 900 pages.

Start at the very beginning of the book, following an excellent introduction. There you will find authors including Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Paine, to mention just the first three. Or…just dip in anywhere that appeals. It is impossible to do justice to all that is found here. How about Washington or Lincoln? Henry James? Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Edith Wharton? Zora Neale Hurston? The choices go on and on until one finally approaches the end of the book to find Marilynne Robinson and Zadie Smith among others.

This is a gorgeous book. Think about getting it for yourself or someone you love right now or maybe as a holiday gift.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher . All opinions are my own.
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The Glorious American Essay is a must read for anyone who has an interest in American history. It is a compilation of essays, letters, sermons and speeches that have helped to weave the fabric that is the United States. Included are Founding Fathers like Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton. Writings from authors like Fitzgerald, Hawthorn and Poe. There are activists, scientists, poets, politicians and so many more. This book is such a wealth of information and an excellent addition to any personal library.
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An important and necessary book sure to become a gold standard for nonfiction writing classes. I will return to it again and again.
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One must be grateful to Philipp Lopate for compiling & editing this wonderful collection of essays, a wide range of thought provoking pieces spanning more than 2 centuries. 
Whether it is subjective, controversial, artistic, religious, political or philosophical, this book offers to the reader a delightful sample of a unique American tradition, a celebration of the best in American prose writing. 

Many thanks to Netgalley and Knopf/Doubleday for the opportunity to read this wonderful collection of essays prior to its release date
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The essay form is a deceptive one. It appears easy enough but it requires just as much skill and art as fiction. Lopate's selections here are terrific in how they showcase different sub-genres. The book is worth the buy just for Lopate's introduction.. I wish there had been more essays by writers of color but perhaps that's a whole different anthology we need at some point.
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Has reading an essay ever changed your life?
It has mine. “Common Sense” helped me fall further in love with reading history. “A Case for Reparations”, while I don’t fully agree with the conclusions, sent me scrambling for more information on race in America (a quest that continues to this day). Depending on your definition of “essay”, these two might not even count. But that is part of what Phillip Lopate seeks to reconcile in his new book, The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays from Colonial Times to the Present. There is no agreed-upon definition of what an essay is, so Lopate seeks to codify an inclusive definition and set up a canon of sorts. He does not pretend to include all the great essays, but rather a collection that represents some of the greatest short writings (whether delivered in print or in spoken word) ever created in our nation’s history.
Breadth must have also been a key tenet. His collection of one hundred essays includes the most diverse group of authors (ethnically, politically, religiously, etc.) I have ever encountered. Represented within the pages are authors who are white, Black, Chinese, Jewish, and Russian. One-third of the authors are women (pretty impressive considering the publication rate of authors in American history). There were even (at least) two authors with disabilities included. The essays encompass a gigantic range of topics, from political ones to religious or cultural ones, from the death of a pig to the deficiencies of American interior design.
My favorite essays? They were actually all adapted speeches, which Lopate rightly considers to count as essays. MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” is simply terrific and speaks to our world today with as much clarity as his own. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address has always been one of my favorite pieces of writing of all time, and it makes an appearance here. Something new touches me and changes me each time I read it, and this time was no exception. But my favorite part of the entire collection was near the very beginning when I read, for the first time since my early teens, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. While Edwards’ famous sermon sometimes gets a bad rap for being a “hell, fire and brimstone” message (as a matter of fact, it seems to be considered the epitome of it), but there is a huge difference between Edwards’ sermon and what is commonly referred to as a “hell, fire and brimstone” message today: Edwards’ unrelenting focus on God’s grace juxtaposed to his wrath. It is actually the perfect balance for the Christian faith. Take, for example, this excerpt:
Their foot shall slide in due time, seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.
…
3. Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of the selves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.
4. That the reason why they are not fallen already, and do not fall now, is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed times comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost. The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this. — “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God” — By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment.
So you would fall into the abyss of your own volition, of your own choice, except for the hand of God keeping you from falling into the pit. That is grace, and Edwards captures it perfectly.
Many other essays were new to me and made a significant impression. Margaret Fuller’s “Woman in the Nineteenth Century” helped me gain a new perspective on women’s roles at a national turning point. Frederick Douglass’s “To My Old Master, Thomas Auld”, although I had read portions before in David Blight’s wonderful biography, was much more impactful to read in full and once again shows grace at work. Sui Sin Far’s “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian” was illuminating in its depiction of what is was like to live as someone with mixed ethnicity (half Chinese) in America. W.E.B. Dubois was fantastic, as always, in “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”. Zora Neale Hurston’s “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”, was raw and powerful in its honesty. E.B. White’s “The Death of a Pig”, was surprisingly beautiful. I saw a new side of James Baldwin in his “Equal in Paris”. And the most arresting of them all might have been (don’t laugh) Nora Ephron’s “A Few Words About Breasts”.
Lopate has constructed something beautiful in this volume, which is large, but one can easily dip in and out of it over time. If you love writing from great writers, or you want a small sampling of some of the greatest American writers, this is a perfect book for you. The diversity and quality of these essays will make you come away changed, no matter which essay (or possibly multiple) does it for you.
I received a review copy of The Glorious American Essay courtesy of Knopf Doubleday Publishing and NetGalley, but my opinions are my own.
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Wonderfully curated in-depth collection of American essays. Some that "everyone" has read, others that are more obscure!
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Lopate's anthology is one the best, if not the best, collection of American historical thought.  It covers a variety of subjects, showing the breadth and depth of American identity in writing.  Much could be said about the specific essays, but in a review of an anthology, it is important to focus on the choices that are included.  Many of these writings give the reader insight into the meaning of being an American; sometimes those conclusions are challenged.  The essays show that Americans can be in dialogue with each other, even when divided by decades.  There is a balance between all time periods here, which is something that cannot often be said of anthologies.  Although many market themselves of being representative of an entire period or genre, they often are not.  This anthology balances early American writing with modern American writing, political with cultural.  

It's a volume that in hard copy, over the ensuing years, I see becoming marked, filled with post-it notes and highlights, and annotated with each subsequent read.  Lopate does a great service to the reader by including a table of contents also organized by theme.  While I think the ultimate decision on how to understand these essays is up to the reader, this does a great job at starting a conversation about the meaning and connection between different writings.  

I also liked that fact that many of these writings were ones that don't necessarily pop into one's mind.  There are some more familiar ones, like Edwards' sermon, or Whitman on Lincoln, but this is fresh and invigorating, giving the reader something new to process and think about.  It was great intellectual play to read through and consider previously unread work by writers I already knew, and to consider the context of these works.

Lopate's introductory essay also lends itself to consideration, and does a fantastic job of arguing for the merits of American prose.  

I cannot speak highly enough of this captivating, engaging collection.
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This is a must-have collection of glorious American essays!  

Any great American essay you might hope to find, it's probably in this book. Everyone from Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, John Muir, and E.B. White.

There are 100 wonderful essays in this text, some I've read before and some I"ve never encountered.

As an ELA teacher in a high school, I especially love this book because I will pull from it for my students. I want this book in lovely hardcover to add to my personal book collection.

I'm very grateful to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday for the ARC and the opportunity to preview this book.
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