Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Trim: 6½ x 9½
978-1-4422-7636-9 • Hardback • November 2016 • $97.00 • (£75.00)
978-1-4422-7637-6 • eBook • November 2016 • $92.00 • (£67.00)
Ben Railton is professor of English studies and coordinator of American studies at Fitchburg State University. He is the author of Contesting the Past, Reconstructing the Nation: American Literature and Culture in the Gilded Age, 1876–1893 (2007), Redefining American Identity: From Cabeza de Vaca to Barack Obama (2011), and The Chinese Exclusion Act: What It Can Teach Us about America (2013).
At what seems a dark political moment for many citizens in the US, Railton a realistic and optimistic examination of American politics, social issues, and culture through selected literary lenses. Some readers may be distracted by the term ‘critical patriotism’ in the subtitle, although the author carefully defines it; the title itself serves the book more precisely. Railton offers wide-ranging contexts and references as he examines the difficult histories of American life: African American and Native American experiences, the Depression, Caribbean American histories, the AIDS epidemic, the refugee dilemma. Focusing on 13 literary works, ranging from Charles Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition (1901) to Dave Eggers's What Is the What (2006), Railton makes a compelling argument that despite the dark events and patterns of life in the US—including the current divisiveness—these works become means toward a more enlightened country. The prose is free of jargon, written with an eye to the interests of scholars and serious readers. A substantial list of further reading closes this reflection on American life and values.
Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.
— Choice Reviews