Review by Choice Review

These fine essays analyze US texts from the 1760s through the 1820s so as to illustrate the forms of expression, assumptions, conflicts, and ambivalences of the era. The texts include a remarkably broad spectrum, from the canonical Common Sense through slave narratives, notable court cases, popular novels, and the architecture of Monticello to The Last of the Mohicans. Two common themes linking the essays are that the language "was richer and more nuanced than their inheritors" understood, and that the current generation could benefit from careful reconsideration of those complexities that are the foundation of American life. Useful insights abound. For instance, in a lively discussion of John Jay's often neglected contributions to The Federalist, Ferguson (law, Columbia) notes an Enlightenment rhetorical "aesthetic" that "signifies the capacity to convey a political goal in an artistic manner by joining meaning to beauty in a way that also suggests a unifying simplicity of appreciation and control," certainly a lost art. This drive to "recover the lost dynamism in republican beginnings by retrieving the meaning of words and images" is a fine example of the historian's art of connecting past to present without violating the integrity of either. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. R. P. Gildrie Austin Peay State University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.