10 Great American Business Novels

A student of an underappreciated literary genre selects some books that may change the way you see what you do.

It has always struck me that the best business novels are interactive. In them, the world of commerce is driven by people whose reality is made palpable to us but whose values, attitudes, and biases often compel us to question our own: As a businessperson, how would I relate to the kind of complex, unpredictable circumstances in which all-too-real fictional characters commonly find themselves?Read more »

Where Would Emerson Find His Scholar Now?

His speech was called “our intellectual Declaration of Independence.” Its theme was the universe itself; its hero, Man Thinking. Now, one hundred and seventy-five years later, a noted scholar sees Emerson’s great vision as both more beleaguered and more urgent than ever.

ON AUGUST 31, 1837, THE DAY AFTER COMMENCEMENT—they don’t seem to have gone in for vacations in those earnest times—the academic year at Harvard was ushered in with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s address to Phi Beta Kappa on a stock topic, “The American Scholar.” The meeting was held in the First Parish Church, on the exact spot where Anne Hutchinson had been examined for heresy two centuries before. Read more »

Three Sisters Who Showed The Way

Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody managed to extend the boundaries that cramped the lives of nineteenth-century women. Elizabeth introduced the kindergarten movement to America, Mary developed a new philosophy of mothering that we now take for granted, and Sophia was liberated from invalidism by her passionate love for her husband.

Other men,” Ralph Waldo Emerson told an admiring crowd in Boston’s Odeon Theater toward the end of 1845, “are lenses through which we read our own minds.” The eminent philosopher then went on to tell his audience of the importance in their lives of “Representative Men,” such as Plato, Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Goethe. “These men correct the delirium of the animal spirits, make us considerate, and engage us to new aims and powers,” Emerson concluded. “Thus we feed on genius....” Read more »

Ten Books That Shaped The American Character

Walden is here, of course; but so too is Fanny Farmer’s first cookbook

America is not a nation of readers, yet books have had a deep and lasting effect on its national life. By comparison with the Russians, whose thirst for books—especially contraband books—is legendary, we pay them scant attention; Walker Percy once dolefully estimated that the hard-core audience for serious literature in this country of two hundred and thirty million is perhaps one or two million, and he probably was not far off.Read more »

The Essex Disaster

She was the first whaleship ever sunk by her prey. But that’s not why she’s remembered.

FOR THE WHALING MEN OF NANTUCKET , the year 1819 looked to be an especially promising one. The island’s famed whaling fleet, ravaged by the 1812 war, now numbered sixty-one stout vessels, and fresh fishing grounds had just been discovered in the equatorial waters of the central Pacific. The new grounds lay 17,000 sailing miles away in ill-charted seas, but Nantucketers routinely made voyages whose immense length only a handfulof great explorers could match.Read more »

Fear Of The City 1783 To 1983

The city has been a lure for millions, but most of the great American minds have been appalled by its excesses. Here an eminent observer, who knows firsthand the city’s threat, surveys the subject.

EVERY THURSDAY , when I leave my apartment in a vast housing complex on Columbus Avenue to conduct a university seminar on the American city, I reflect on a double life—mine. Most of the people I pass on my way to the subway look as imprisoned by the city as my parents and relatives used to look in the Brooklyn ghetto where I spent my first twenty years. Yet no matter where else I have traveled and taught, I always seem to return to streets and scenes like those on New York’s Upper West Side. Read more »

Melville Meets Hawthorne

HOW A CHAMPAGNE PICNIC ON MONUMENT MOUNTAIN LED TO A PROFOUND REVISION OF Moby Dick —AND DISENCHANTMENT

A little group of American men of affairs and letters met along with their ladies on the morning of August 5, 1850, to hike up Monument Mountain, one of the more prominent features of the landscape surrounding Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The intention was purely social, and socially the day proved a smashing success, leading five of the ten hikers to record the event in letters, journals, articles, and books. For two of them, however, the climb was the beginning of one of the strangest episodes in the history of American literature.Read more »