An American Album: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Harper's Magazine

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9781879957534: An American Album: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Harper's Magazine
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For over 150 years, Harper's Magazine has explored the American experience with a fiercely independent spirit and spectacular writing. That experience is available in this magnificent illustrated volume, spanning the decades and encompassing writing from Melville and Twain to Normal Mailer, David Mamet, and Annie Dillard. This beautiful volume includes reports, poetry, fiction, commentary, critiques of contemporary society and politics, speeches, humor - plus more than 200 photographs, illustrations, and other artwork, originally published in the magazine.

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An American Album surveys the illustrious past of Harper's; perhaps the most consistently well-written and self-important magazine in American history. It's a book as heavy as The American Heritage Dictionary, as taxing as the Bible. Assembling works by authors as varied as Herman Melville and Mary Gaitskill, this massive coffee-table tome crosses genres, categories, and moods to create a remarkably complicated tapestry--or the kind of picture where the closer you look, the more you see.

Lewis Lapham edited the anthology and also writes a long, detailed forward. Surveying the successes and failures of the past with an impossibly authoritative tone, Lapham is like a teacher rapping on his desk: All right class!! He writes about the '60s with quaint phrases like "the go-go expectations of the Age of Aquarius." Later he talks about writing that is "appropriately human." Readers of Lapham's monthly essays will recognize his obscure, demanding take on what is "appropriate." They will also recognize the rich world of his magazine, which through its layout, presentation, and content usually manages to announce itself with understated gusto and pitch-perfect dramatics--as in one cover package titled: "DOES AMERICA STILL EXIST? Looking for Reasons To Believe."

A word of warning: An American Album will frustrate readers who like to know where they are at all times. Although selections are divided by decade, no attempt is made to label pieces by category. Shorts stories, essays, and unsigned editorials exist side by side, each leading into the next. Paging through, it's unclear whether you're reading a piece of fiction, opinion, or fact. If Harper's were the kind of magazine that aspired to the blurring of boundaries, I'd understand these omissions. There's something interesting and unnerving about getting three paragraphs into an Alice Walker piece and still wondering: Is this a short story or a confession? Since Harper's has always been a vessel of clarity and big, confident pronouncements, I attributed this smudging of categories to careless oversight, not postmodern conceit. Either way, the reading is good, sometimes great. It matters. --Emily White

From Publishers Weekly:

When America's longest-running magazine produces a retrospective anthology, its table of contents reads like a who's who of American letters (plus some British notables). The catholicity of taste and comprehensiveness testify to a magazine that has always been, if not avant-garde, then at least at the literary forefront. Fiction excerpts include classics such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and Henry James's Washington Square, as well as the more contemporary and controversial The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. There are stories from such literary stars as Edith Wharton, Jack London, Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty and Nadine Gordimer, and selections from the best American humorists: Twain, Thurber and E.B. White. The nonfiction is uniformly notable throughout the anthology, and spans a broad spectrum of subject matter, from the literary (a profile of Gertrude Stein by Katherine Anne Porter) to the newsworthy (Seymour Hersh on My Lai) to the athletic (a profile of Cassius Clay by George Plimpton), along with commentary on such contemporary issues as AIDS (Richard Rodriguez) and date-rape (Mary Gaitskill). Although the above may suggest an all-purpose greatest-hits collection, Lapham, the magazine's longtime editor, has in mind not only Harper's history but also America's. Financial reporting, for instance, extends from an essay on the stock market panic of 1873 through one by John Kenneth Galbraith on the origins of the Great Depression. Combat journalism begins with the Civil War (George Noyes at Antietam), and passes through San Juan Hill (Frederic Remington) and Iwo Jima (John P. Marquand). In a volume overflowing with riches, Lapham's sesquicentennial selections vividly form a mosaic portrait of the American experience. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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