The Americanist

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University of Michigan Press, Dec 18, 2009 - History - 208 pages
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“ 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.


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About the author (2009)

Daniel Baruch Aaron was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 4, 1912. He received a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Michigan in 1933 and the first doctoral degree in American civilization from Harvard University. He taught English at Smith College for 30 years. During wartime shortages of manpower, he worked on a farm and as a volunteer police officer. In 1979, he co-founded the nonprofit Library of America. The company has published millions of copies of over 250 moderately priced novels, memoirs, narrative histories, forgotten masterpieces, and other classics. He wrote several books during his lifetime including Men of Good Hope: A Story of American Progressives, Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism, and The Unwritten War: American Writers and the Civil War. His memoirs include The Americanist and Commonplace Book, 1934-2012. He condensed the 155 volume journal of failed poet and scion of Southern wealth Arthur Crew Inman into The Inman Diary: A Public and Private Confession. In 2010, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal as a scholar and as the founding president of the Library of America. He died from complications of pneumonia on April 30, 2016 at the age of 103.

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