Up from the Depths tells the interconnected stories of two of the most important writers in American history-the novelist and poet Herman Melville (1819-1891) and one of his earliest biographers, the literary critic and historian Lewis Mumford (1895-1990). Deftly cutting back and forth between the writers, Aaron Sachs reveals the surprising resonances between their lives, work, and troubled times-and their uncanny relevance in our own age of crisis. The author of Moby-Dick was largely forgotten for several decades after his death, but Mumford helped spearhead Melville' s revival in the aftermath of World War I and the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, when American culture needed a forebear with a suitably dark vision. As Mumford' s career took off and he wrote books responding to the machine age, urban decay, world war, and environmental degradation, it was looking back to Melville' s confrontation with crises such as industrialization, slavery, and the Civil War that helped Mumford to see his own era clearly. Mumford remained obsessed with Melville, ultimately helping to canonize him as America' s greatest tragedian. But largely forgotten today is one of Mumford' s key insights-that Melville' s darkness was balanced by an inspiring determination to endure. Amid today' s foreboding over global warming, racism, technology, pandemics, and other crises, Melville and Mumford remind us that we' ve been in this struggle for a long time. To rediscover these writers today is to rediscover how history can offer hope in dark times.
"An incisive homage to the continuing relevance of two towering writers. . . . A well-informed, thoughtful dual biography. " * Kirkus Reviews, starred review * "Excellent. . . . a braided account of Melville and Mumford, aimed at exploring the strange resonance between their times and ours. "---Daniel Immerwahr, Slate "Up From the Depths takes up the dialectic method so central to Melville' s writing for its unique investigation of parallel lives. . . . Fittingly, Mr. Sachs' s chapters interweave periods of the two men' s lives, creating a dappled effect of shared shadows and light. Certain biographical overlaps are particularly striking. "---Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal "Fascinating. . . . In shining a light on Mumford' s efforts during the ' Melville Revival' of the mid-1900s, Sachs makes a strong case for the rediscovery of Mumford' s own writing. . . . A well-executed literary history. " * Publishers Weekly * "An inspired study of [Melville and Mumford], juxtaposing their lives and works in alternating chapters. . . . What draws Sachs to [these writers] is the dialectic in each between continuity and disruption, confidence and despair. "---Steven G. Kellman, American Scholar "Mr. Sachs has written a sort of palimpsest of biography itself, showing how, generation by generation, we begin to see through the traffic between past and present that leads to the rediscovery of figures like Melville and Mumford, who wanted for themselves and their progeny (which includes us) a recognition that going backward can also be a way of going forward. "---Carl Rollyson, New York Sun "Sachs manages a set of impressive balancing acts: matching scholarly diligence with fluent, stylish prose; admiration for his subjects with an alertness to their flaws. Up from the Depths packs multiple books into one: an introduction to Mumford' s thought, an innovative study of Melville, and a history of the modern age through the eyes of two uniquely perceptive writers. "---Madoc Cairns, Observer
Aaron Sachs is professor of history and American studies at Cornell University. He is the author of The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism and Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition.
|7 Jun 2022
|Princeton University Press
|Princeton University Press
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