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THE FIND

American history in so many words

September 13, 2009

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The cultural meaning of works by writers as disparate as Louisa May Alcott and Linda Lovelace is examined in “A New Literary History of America’’ (Harvard University Press, $49.95), edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors. Topping 1,000 pages, “History’’ contains 216 essays, each of which stands on its own as a work of scholarship and imagination. Contributors discuss what a given icon, painting, song, or speech has meant to the history of the United States. Sarah Vowell considers the man, woman, and pitchfork in Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.’’ Others ponder Bob Dylan, detective fiction, and the anti-lynching crusade of Ida B. Wells.

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