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American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century
by Christine Stansell
Publisher: New York, Henry Holt and Company 2000
Category: Non-fiction19th century20th centuryPoliticsPhotography/Art/Design
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From Publishers Weekly: They were novelists, artists' models, secretaries and chess whizzes; their ranks included Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, Margaret Sanger and John Reed. A few were wealthy, many were poor, and they gathered in shabby saloons to argue about free love and Nietzsche as they plowed through mounds of spaghetti, brisket and bratwurst. In her latest book, Princeton historian Stansell (City of Women) examines the politics and cultural impact of the turn-of-the-20th-century American "bohemia." Combining newly imported European political awareness (Stansell says refugees from the 1905-1907 Russian Revolution arrived with "their saber wounds still festering") with institutionally guaranteed free speech, these New York radicals were much more open to the inclusion of Jews and women than their Old World counterparts. And even though they generally ignored black aspirations, Stansell argues that the bohemians created "the first full-bodied alternative to an established cultural elite," which undermined "the smug faith that culture was the domain of the well-born and tasteful" and dug "channels between high and low culture, outsiders and insiders." By so doing--despite their racial blinders--they made possible the cultural course of much of the 20th century: pioneering feminist ideas, helping to make New York the cultural capital of the nation and laying the groundwork for the African-American crossover that took place during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. If Stansell's grasshopperish prose occasionally jumps from one topic to another, it's only because her thorough and engaging study abounds with the superabundant energy it describes.

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