David Rains Wallace (review date 23 October 1988)
SOURCE: "All We Surveyed," in New York Times Book Review, October 23, 1998, Section 7, p. 9.
[Wallace is an American critic and author of Life in the Balance, a companion volume to the PBS Audubon television specials of the same name. In the following review, he offers a largely favorable assessment of A Writer's America.]
At a lime when nature writing is undergoing a certain vogue, largely in the form of anthologies published by small presses, it is instructive to have a book on American landscape and literature from a major literary critic and mainstream publisher. [In A Writer's America: Landscape in Literature] Alfred Kazin reminds us that nature is not only the subject of a genre but a fundamental concern of the American classics, from Poe and Melville to Faulkner and Hemingway. He enhances his argument, and the book's attractiveness, with a lively selection of art and photographs.
In America, Western civilization encountered a natural world that seemed unmarked by agriculture, religion, industry or other attributes of human culture. (For various reasons, the fact that the native peoples possessed all these attributes proved easy to ignore.) As Mr. Kazin observes, the existence of such a world and the potential for its profitable exploitation caused an exhilaration and at the same time an uneasiness and guilt. Both the exhilaration and the guilt have persisted through...
(The entire section is 487 words.)