June Books 9) The Flowering of New England 1815-1865, by Van Wyck Brooks
My grandmother's step-brother, explaining how New England in the early nineteenth century saw an extraordinary outburst of literary talent, which he attributes in part to the region developing its intellectual resources through Harvard and proximity to Europe, while at the same time it became increasingly politically and economically sidelined as the continent opened up, benefiting New York and points south. (This then of course doesn't explain why the era of literary excellence ended at the time of the Civil War, but perhaps the war itself is explanation enough.) I had not previously appreciated the literary importance of Concord, Massachusetts. As in his other book, which covers largely the same period but in the rest of the US, Brooks has a breezy and entertaining style telling us about all the connections between writers and other artists of the period; I felt also that he gave more attention to women writers (though none at all to non-whites) here. The most striking observation was that most schoolteachers across the entire country in the early nineteenth century came from New England, so it was very much setting the cultural pace for the new nation. (Another striking observation - Uncle Tom's Cabin had been translated into Welsh in three different editions before any of Charles Dickens or Walter Scott had appeared in that language.) Anyway, rounds out my political knowledge of the era nicely.