It is unfortunate that various publishers have allowed earlier editions of this magnificent book to go out of print, leaving only this expensive, new paperback edition (badly marred by an unspeakably garish cover). As first published in the 1960s, "Music in a New Found Land" remains the best and most detailed examination of American music until 1960, including both "classical" and "popular" forms. Although numerous musical examples are included, the book seemed intended for a highly motivated, "general" readership rather than musical specialists, and a high level of musical knowledge does not seem necessary. The music of virtually all of the key figures of American music is described in lengthy, substantial chapters, including composers such as Ives, Carter, Ruggles, Copland, Sessions, Harris, Barber, Partch, and Cage, as well as improvising musicians such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, John Lewis, and Gerry Mulligan. The book's publication date in the early 1960s meant that important, later developments were omitted. For example, the chapter on Miles Davis doesn't go much beyond "Sketches of Spain" and "Porgy and Bess," while the chapter on Elliott Carter focuses almost entirely on his great, early works such as the Cello Sonata, the Piano Sonata, and the first two string quartets. This limitation is unavoidable of course, and hardly matters, because the value of the book lies in Mellers' obvious love for American music, his detailed, patient examination of the ideas and histories surrounding that music, and his clear, graceful prose. An enormous added benefit is the serious attention he pays to fascinating, yet less well-known (and now sometimes forgotten) musicians, such as Daniel Pinkham, Hall Overton, Theodore Chanler, Billy Jim Layton, and Robert Moevs. Finally, it is good that Mellers was not afraid to criticize the work of musicians that he found less interesting. For example, he did not admire the music of William Schuman, Peter Mennin, or Vincent Persichetti, and clearly expresses the reasons for his opinions. He found much of "cool" jazz to be uninspired, despite his unyielding admiration for Miles Davis, the coolest of all. Mellers' honesty and bluntness is refreshing, particularly when found in a writer who typically so admires the musicians he writes about.
If possible, try to find early, clothbound printings of this book. As originally published by Alfred Knopf, those printings of "Music in a New Found Land" were beautifully designed and well made, with lovely, cream-colored paper. The Knopf edition of this book is a pleasure to hold and read, and a reminder of the incredible quality Knopf brought to their "routine," trade editions in those years. (Gilbert Highet's "Poets in an Landscape" is another good example of Knopf's first-rate design and printing in the 1950s, 60s, and later.) A subsequent, paperback edition, published by Oxford University Press, is somewhat cramped in its layout. However, Mellers added a new introduction to the Oxford University Press edition, describing the work of several composers with whom he was unfamiliar when writing the first edition. These new additions - including Mellers' description of the music of Ruth Crawford - make it worthwhile to look for this edition as well.