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The Oxford companion to American literature [Unknown Binding]

James David Hart
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Easton Press; 5th ed., rev. and enl edition (1993)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0006RGZJC
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very American 9 Jan 2006
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover
Any book that has the words 'Oxford Companion to' as part of the title is entitled to a certain respect, for the title speaks of a certain level of quality that is hard to match. While there are better and worse Oxford Companions, the series as a whole is of very high quality, and the 'Oxford Companion to American Literature' is no exception. This book has a significant history of its own - the principle compiler, James Hart, began work on the first edition of this text in 1936; the first Oxford Companion to American Literature was published in 1941. It went through several revisions in Hart's lifetime; after he died in 1990, Phillip Leininger took over completion of this sixth edition, revising and expanding some of the entries.
In all, there are over 5000 entries, with 1100 of them being significant summaries of major literary works, figures, or other significant literary topics. Of these, 104 were added by Leininger after Hart's death, which shows the great amount owed to Hart. This sixth edition includes information up to 1993/94. At the back of the book is a chronological index of American literary history and American social history laid out side by side, from 1577 to 1994. This shows the overall growth of America as a nation as well as a nation of literary artists.
American literature is broadly defined for this text, and includes not only the typical literary arts of novelists, poets, and playwrights, but also autobiographers and biographers, historians, newspaper and magazine writers. The colonies of America often being founded by religious persons looking for freedom of expression, a source of the American spirit that has never dissipated, there are entries for many religious leaders in American history.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very American... 4 Jun 2004
By FrKurt Messick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Any book that has the words 'Oxford Companion to' as part of the title is entitled to a certain respect, for the title speaks of a certain level of quality that is hard to match. While there are better and worse Oxford Companions, the series as a whole is of very high quality, and the 'Oxford Companion to American Literature' is no exception. This book has a significant history of its own - the principle compiler, James Hart, began work on the first edition of this text in 1936; the first Oxford Companion to American Literature was published in 1941. It went through several revisions in Hart's lifetime; after he died in 1990, Phillip Leininger took over completion of this sixth edition, revising and expanding some of the entries.
In all, there are over 5000 entries, with 1100 of them being significant summaries of major literary works, figures, or other significant literary topics. Of these, 104 were added by Leininger after Hart's death, which shows the great amount owed to Hart. This sixth edition includes information up to 1993/94. At the back of the book is a chronological index of American literary history and American social history laid out side by side, from 1577 to 1994. This shows the overall growth of America as a nation as well as a nation of literary artists.
American literature is broadly defined for this text, and includes not only the typical literary arts of novelists, poets, and playwrights, but also autobiographers and biographers, historians, newspaper and magazine writers. The colonies of America often being founded by religious persons looking for freedom of expression, a source of the American spirit that has never dissipated, there are entries for many religious leaders in American history. While previous editions have included an entry on each of the Presidents, this edition is more selective, including the Founding Fathers and only those later Presidents who had a significant role either in eras of change or notable literary output of their own (U.S. Grant and his autobiography, for example). Entries for universities have largely been eliminated here, but much of the deleted information is duplicated in other entries.
Entries on poems discuss publication history, poetic structure, influences on the composition, and, if appropriate, narrative of the meaning - for example, there is a brief synopsis of the 'plot' of Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Raven'. Entries on novels are much more plot summaries, with little of this background information, save where the novel is truly unique in style. Literary schools and awards are also entered - awards often have listings, such as the listing of all Pulitzer Prize winners from 1917 of the various types of literature; American Nobel Prize winners are also listed.
This is not a companion to high-brow literature only - popular writers from Louis L'Amour to Anne Rice are included. One thing that is not included, perhaps because it stretches the idea of literary art a bit further than the Oxford Companion would have it, are comic strips, comic books and their characters. The book is not exclusively American in scope - some born Americans who left or moved citizenship (T.S. Eliot), and those born elsewhere who became American (Isaac Bashevis Singer) are included; movements and influences from abroad are included also. There are also entries for major Native American tribes and personalities of North America. This is very much a book of the United States - the term 'American' is used in this context, so Canadians are not a subject of this volume (not to worry - there is an Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature).
This is a very useful book, handy and accessible, easy to use, and thorough in scope.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive but superficial 17 July 2012
By Timothy P. Stallcup - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have owned and used a copy of the Oxford Companion to American Literature (OCAL) for years and there is no doubt it is a useful volume. It has a prodigious number of entries on authors, works, history, artistic, social, political and cultural movements, phrases, etc., and is a pretty good place to start if you are in need of a general reference. That said, the information provided is very basic. With respect to individual works, the entries are little more than plot summaries, with perhaps a word or two on the genre or the author, but not a lot more. There is some implicit valuation of the works and authors in question, if only from the detail of the summary. The problem is that OCAL often doesn't tell you what you really want to know if you are trying to evaluate the quality or influence of a work or author or whether you should really take the time and trouble to read them. It is a bit as if Joe Friday edited a book on literature: Just the facts, ma'am. Now obviously with a book of this scope, it would be unrealistic to expect detailed critical evaluations, and perhaps by avoiding much of any critical discussion, the book avoids the ebbs and flows of critical opinion. Still, I often find I am disappointed and would at least like a word or two about why a book, or author, is valued and esteemed, strong and weak points, influence, critical reception and disputes, and all the niceties that really interest us once we have read the book and actually know what happened. For example, I recently read Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, checked OCAL and found nothing more than a cursory plot summary with no suggestion of why it has been considered a popular or superior or interesting book or what Wilder was really getting at. Again, I do not expect a dissertation, but it IS possible in a few words to convey a more critical and insightful view than you usually find here. As a point of comparison, I would offer the Oxford Companion to English Literature which is a markedly superior volume that conveys in relatively few words much more informative and insightful critical appraisals of its authors and books. There is nothing here that ever really makes you think, or even gives you a good starting place to think about a writer or book. That being said, if you need a plot summary, or a simple definition of a genre or literary term, or even a quick biography with a list of major works, this is not a bad reference and really does cover some obscure stuff. Just don't expect too much.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Who's Who and What's What of American Literature 25 Mar 2008
By tick tock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not the deepest book when it comes to literary analysis, but what this book promises it delivers. Every writer of American literature is covered with a short biopic that includes the high watermarks of his literary career. Every major work of literature is also addressed in its own entry, as well, but again, with little more than a basic explanation of plot and characters. If you need a quick reference for the authors of American literature, this will prove invaluable, but don't look to it for anything other than that.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Studying American Literature with a Reference Book 23 Jun 2010
By Elizabeth, the Traveler (Atlanta, Georgia) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When my granddaughter started an American Literature online class for her junior year of high school I recalled I mostly remembered American literature class as starting with Cotton Mather which did not make a lot of sense, and I think I lost interest from then on. Now, a chance to try again. My approach over a 3 day period was to use the excellent chronological index in the back to check the history and sociology dates and then dip into this excellent reference for the related literature. Since my edition goes only until 1965 there is still a lot to go. A useful method of getting into American Literature.
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother. 23 Feb 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not at all what I thought. I was also sent an older version of the book and not what is pictured here.
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