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Carl Van Doren: A Man of Ideas
Carl Van Doren’s prominence as biographer, historian, essayist, and literary critic marked a golden era of literary and cultural criticism across the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. As one of the nation’s most prolific literacy critics, Van Doren (1885-1950) was in conversation with every major writer of his generation. His personal and professional correspondence with the likes of Sinclair Lewis, Robert Frost, Elinor Wylie, and H. L. Mencken provide a window into America’s literary and intellectual landscape across the first half of the twentieth century. The Pulitzer Prize, awarded to Van Doren in 1939 for his biography on Benjamin Franklin, recognized the formidable, elegant, and scrupulous prose that characterized the body of Van Doren’s work. Carl Van Doren was, most simply, a man of ideas, a public intellectual in an age when the Public Intellectual was itself an esteemed vocation. He wrote extensively across the first half of the twentieth century for The Nation, Scribner’s, Century, Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, the Saturday Review, Bookman, and Good Housekeeping; was the author of many books of American and literary history; was a literary editor; wrote the introductions to over one hundred books by other authors; was editor of mail-order book clubs including the Literary Guild of America and the Readers Club; believed in a federated world government and worked with Americans United for World Government; and won the Pulitzer Prize.In this work, historian Robin Foster follows a career, and discovers a life.