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American Bloomsbury    by Susan Cheever order for
American Bloomsbury
by Susan Cheever
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Special moments occur in history when certain lives and circumstances intersect - as if divinely ordained - and the world is singularly enriched because of those intersections.

The Golden Age of Greece was one such moment (and philosophy, literature, and architecture were forever altered and influenced); the English Renaissance was another such moment (and, once again, literature - especially drama and poetry as rendered by William Shakespeare - was profoundly changed and perfected); then, during the middle of the nineteenth century in a landlocked town a few miles west of Boston, Massachusetts, another special intersection of lives occurred.

That intersection is the subject of Susan Cheever's magnificent new book, American Bloomsbury. Yes, this golden age of American literature was of a scale and quality uniquely different from its Greek and English antecedents, but - as implicitly and persuasively argued by Cheever in her exciting new narrative - it was, for all of its differences, the most important and most intriguing intersection in American literary history.

With Ralph Waldo Emerson in Concord, Massachusetts, as the gravitational center of their intellectual and social universe, four other geniuses - Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau - gathered intermittently together, and collectively 'these men and women wrote some of the most enjoyable and enduring works in American literature'. Moreover, they 'debated and wrote about original ideas that continue to shape our beliefs about environmentalism, feminism, sexuality, freedom, education, materialism, spirituality, and the importance of the individual.'

In a period of about twenty-five years in the middle of the nineteenth century, the American character was given its special shape and voice; in fact, if you want to understand America's intellectual heritage, and if you want to understand the challenges that continue to confront American culture, then you simply must read Cheever's American Bloomsbury. This must-read book offers everyone 'a fresh and intimate look at a very special time and place, where five giants of our culture tangled with one another and the world, and wrote the books that inspire us still.'

In closing, I would add only this additional endorsement for Susan Cheever's superb study: As a university instructor of literature, I have finally found the one book - above all others - that I can enthusiastically recommend to anyone who wants to appreciate the significant forces, ideas, and personalities in 19th century American literature; better than individual biographies, American Bloomsbury is a brilliantly conceived and beautifully written composite portrait of five of America's most important literary figures. Don't miss it!

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