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The Americanist

Daniel Aaron

Publication Year: 2009

“I have read all of Daniel Aaron’s books, and admired them, but in The Americanist I believe he has composed an intellectual and social memoir for which he will be remembered. His self-portrait is marked by personal tact and admirable restraint: he is and is not its subject. The Americanist is a vision of otherness: literary and academic friends and acquaintances, here and abroad. Eloquently phrased and free of nostalgia, it catches a lost world that yet engendered much of our own.” —Harold Bloom “The Americanist is the absorbing intellectual autobiography of Daniel Aaron, who is the leading proponent and practitioner of American Studies. Written with grace and wit, it skillfully blends Daniel Aaron’s personal story with the history of the field he has done so much to create. This is a first-rate book by a first-rate scholar.” —David Herbert Donald, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University The Americanist is author and critic Daniel Aaron’s anthem to nearly a century of public and private life in America and abroad. Aaron, who is widely regarded as one of the founders of American Studies, graduated from the University of Michigan, received his Ph.D. from Harvard, and taught for over three decades each at Smith College and Harvard. Aaron writes with unsentimental nostalgia about his childhood in Los Angeles and Chicago and his later academic career, which took him around the globe, often in the role of America’s accidental yet impartial critic. When Walt Whitman, whom Aaron frequently cites as a touchstone, wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes,” he could have been describing Daniel Aaron—the consummate erudite and Renaissance individual whose allegiance to the truth always outweighs mere partisan loyalty. Not only should Aaron’s book stand as a resplendent and summative work from one of the finest thinkers of the last hundred years, it also succeeds on its own as a first-rate piece of literature, on a par with the writings of any of its subjects. The Americanist is a veritable Who’s Who of twentieth-century writers Aaron interviewed, interacted with, or otherwise encountered throughout his life: Ralph Ellison, Robert Frost, Lillian Hellman, Richard Hofstadter, Alfred Kazin, Sinclair Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, John Crowe Ransom, Upton Sinclair, Edmund Wilson, Leonard Woolf, and W. B. Yeats, to name only a few. Aaron’s frank and personal observations of these literary lights make for lively reading. As well, scattered throughout The Americanist are illuminating portraits of American presidents living and passed—miniature masterworks of astute political observation that offer dazzlingly fresh approaches to well-trod subjects.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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Writer to Reader

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On February 16, 1896, Samuel Butler wrote to his father, “If I had a friend to advise in early life, I should say, ‘change your name to Aaron,’ and you will be pretty safe to head all alphabetical lists.’ ” That happened to be mostly true in my case, save on the rare occasions when I was bumped...

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Part One

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pp. 7-38

I was born in Chicago, August 4, 1912. Both of my parents were dead by my tenth year and virtual strangers to me before they died—my mother in 1921, in the Pottenger Sanitorium in Monrovia, California; my father a year later. Nor was I in rapport with relatives, friends, or other informants who might have been able to ‹ll in the gaps of family history...

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Part Two

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pp. 39-60

Harvard University had not been my ‹rst choice for graduate English studies, and I wouldn’t have gone there had the University of London admitted me without time-consuming conditions. To my surprise and relief, Harvard did, despite my uneven grades and inadequate preparation. It hadn’t occurred to me...

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Part Three

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pp. 61-88

One spring afternoon in 1939, I opened a telegram from the chairman of Smith College’s Department of English. Delivered while my study group was in session (we were reading The Marxist Handbook at the moment), it contained the offer of a three-year contract at $2,250...

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Part Four

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pp. 89-118

In Northampton, a few years before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I had watched the war from a distance through the eyes of friends who were in it. My Harvard roommate, John Finch, now an intelligence of‹cer on an airplane carrier, summed it up to me as “sand in your ears and...

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Part Five

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pp. 119-156

In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy hung over the United States like an enormous painted balloon. Watching his scowling bristly face on television had been pretty scary. The liberal press was full of stories about the lives he had wrecked, and the extent of the damage he caused...

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Part Six

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pp. 158-186

The demonstrations popping up on American campuses in the 1960s and extending to the 1970s began shortly after Joseph McCarthy’s unlamented death in 1957. They excited my sympathy and my vexation. The underlying cause of student disquiet, I believed, was the war in Vietnam, but its proclaimed target was the “establishment,” the emerging bogey...

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pp. 187-196

I initially wrote the preceding parts of this book in 1997. Seven years later at midpoint in the presidentiad of Clinton’s successor—not a propitious time for the Republic—I take stock of my own history without pretending to understand its jerky course. At postninety, I have less to conceal...


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pp. 197-199

E-ISBN-13: 9780472024667
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472115778

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 649114278
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Americanist

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Subject Headings

  • Aaron, Daniel, 1912-.
  • Historians -- United States -- Biography.
  • Historiography -- United States.
  • United States -- Study and teaching.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 20th century -- Miscellanea.
  • Presidents -- United States -- History -- 20th century -- Miscellanea.
  • Critics -- United States -- Biography.
  • American literature -- History and criticism.
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