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Walt Whitmans America (Vintage) Paperback – 19 Mar 1996


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Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Inc; Reprint edition (19 Mar 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679767096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679767091
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 3.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 253,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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WALT WHITMAN WAS BORN in a year of ill omens. Read the first page
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Aug 1999
Format: Paperback
I found this work extremely entertaining. It was like being back in mid-19th century America. It seemed to make the era come alive with real personalities and real historical character. To understand the complexities of this genious and his time, this book is a must. It seemed to be refreshingly candid and forth-right without the usual bias one expects on the subject. There was much more to the man and his times than his sexuality. This book reveals the other sides of Walt Whitman. You can feel his pain with him as you share in his America
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kirk McElhearn TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 2 Sep 2013
Format: Paperback
I'm a latecomer to Whitman's work, only really discovering it in my 40s. It was Reynold's book Beneath the American Renaissance that prodded me in this direction, and, naturally, I wanted to read his more complete take on Walt.

What stands out in this book is the way Reynolds weaves together not only Whitman's life but also the context of the period, which makes it so much easier to understand what Walt was saying. Reynolds is without doubt the best explainer of this period, as it applies to literature, and reading this book is both a pleasure and an enlightening experience, providing a history lesson at the same time as it looks at Whitman's writings.

A must-read book for any Whitman fan.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 13 reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
The best biography of Whitman available 5 Dec 2005
By Kirk McElhearn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm a latecomer to Whitman's work, only really discovering it in the past decade. (I'm in my 40s.) It was Reynold's book Beneath the American Renaissance that prodded me in this direction, and, naturally, I wanted to read his more complete take on Walt.

What stands out in this book is the way Reynolds weaves together not only Whitman's life but also the context of the period, which makes it so much easier to understand what Walt was saying. Reynolds is without doubt the best explainer of this period, as it applies to literature, and reading this book is both a pleasure and an enlightening experience, providing a history lesson at the same time as it looks at Whitman's writings.

A must-read book for any Whitman fan.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
exhaustively researched , from an impartial biographer, 21 Aug 1999
By rchand@tje1.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I found this work extremely entertaining. It was like being back in mid-19th century America. It seemed to make the era come alive with real personalities and real historical character. To understand the complexities of this genious and his time, this book is a must. It seemed to be refreshingly candid and forth-right without the usual bias one expects on the subject. There was much more to the man and his times than his sexuality. This book reveals the other sides of Walt Whitman. You can feel his pain with him as you share in his America
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Walt Whitman As If He Really Walked on this Planet 23 Dec 1997
By Rea Andrew Redd - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Reynolds' Walt Whitman is a fellow who absorbed his culture, tried to save it, but finally sold himself to it. The other Whitman biographies I've read always had a scholarly ax to grind; this one seems, not to cut away Walt Whitman to a one dimensional person, but to find Walt Whitman living a multi-dimensional life in an urbanizing, industrializing, upwardly literate American society. I thorougly enjoyed the chapters on mid-century American Culture; but was looking for an itinerary of hospital visits that Whitman made. It appears that the author appropriately limited himself to what Whitman reported of his own activity as a hospital nurse and to what few recollections of patients.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Cultural Biography 18 Feb 2007
By T. McLaughlin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Whitman was a difficult man and poet. Obviously, if it were not for the poetry, no one would think about him at all today, but oddly what makes this book so good is its long look at 19th century America through Whitman's life experience rather than his words. There are not many quotes from the poems and they're not really missed, in fact some of the best are not even mentioned. It's interesting to compare the life work of a poet and the age he lived in, especially someone like Walt Whitman, so sensitive and hopeful, at the same time living in the what is, for most of us, alternate universe of same sex attraction. Anyway, one's liking or disliking of Whitman does not affect one's enjoyment of this book, which is, as the title tells us, about America during Whitman's life. All of the major topics of the book: politics, homoeroticism, intellectual and religious movements, the growth of the cities, family life, have infinite possibilities and Reynolds does a good job of presenting an appetizing amount of information. He has a very balanced approach to topics quite liable to unbalance an author, I'm thinking especially of homosexuality and politics of the 1850s. And it was very interesting to know that censorship of Whitman was directed at the heterosexual images in the poems. One tends to forget how frigid society was in the Victorian age, how far it is from then to now and Howard Stern.

Reynolds also does a good job of describing Whitman's own ambitions and efforts at persona management. Poets are now so unpopular and so much in a realm of their own that we are surprised that the father of modern poetry hoped to be quoted frequently and by all types. It wasn't unreasonable: Longfellow was immensely popular and so was Whittier, but Whitman who, at least took up topics that still interest us, willfully insisted on a style that made his work very difficult to memorize. His one so to say singable verse, "Oh Captain" was popular and memorized. It was still included in old high school poetry textbooks when I was young - forty-five years ago - but I think has been now forgotten. And Reynolds depicts the aging Whitman trying to patch up and sustain a consistent public image. This too is interesting because this really did work. Whitman was the American image of a poet for quite a while. Nobody knows what Longfellow looked like, Poe certainly doesn't fit the part, and jumping to the 20th century, T. S. Eliot, though great, looks too constipated, in other words that avuncular Face easily confused with Santa meant uplifting and benevolent poetry to people who had never read and never would read a word of it.

All in all, highly recommended.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Definitive Work 5 Jun 2009
By Loves the View - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I came to this through Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson (American History) in which David Reynolds showed himself to be a gifted writer. I was not disappointed in reading this earlier work. While I waited for this copy, I read Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples, which, I also recommend, but if you read it, read it after this book, not before it as I did.

Reynolds shows how Whitman was of his culture and why he is an authentic American voice. Whitman gave the new country a new poetry, a poetry that broke the bounds of format and content. He gave poetry zest, a proud "I" and what we consider today, a healthy view of the body and sex. The cultural biography concept is most appropriate for this poet.

Reynolds draws the picture of the world that shaped Whitman, and then the greatly changed world following the Civil War. Following President Polk, the nation seemed to be drifting. There was economic and political turmoil. The long festering problem of slavery was coming to a boil. It was in this period that Whitman did the work we remember him for.

Reynolds reminds us that in Whitman's time, the continued unification of the states was not a settled issue. Whitman wrote of the unity of all the people and parts of the country. He wrote that he was a poet for slave and master, the man and the woman. When he wrote that he Heard America Singing and named all the classes and their endeavors, he was extolling the united country. His hope was that he was contributing to unification, not "disunification" a role he saw the abolitionists and the suffragettes and other reformers as playing.

The poems, as Reynolds shows, were only one side of Whitman. Many, who know him only as an icon would be surprised by this views on race, on capitalism and how he managed his image.

This book is well researched. The author develops and presents his ideas with clarity. It is not for everyone. It's long and, while it is well written, it might not sustain your interest unless you have an interest in Whitman or the culture of his time(s). Reynolds' more recent book, mentioned earlier, which profiles the country in the early part of the 19th century, should have broader appeal.
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