A Year in Books/Day 219: American Moderns

  • Title: American Moderns Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century
  • Author: Christine Stansell
  • Year Published: 2000 (Metropolitan Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2000
  • Source: History Book Club
  • About: American Moderns is one of my favourite non-fiction books. It was published on the edge of our own new century, and chronicles the birth and growing pains of the one then ending. The narrative focuses on the considerable contributions of the various bohemian elements that came to brilliant prominence in the promising light of this new era. Feminism, labor activism, and radical intellectualism, all action-oriented, fused together to form a progressive platform that, for the first time in America, allowed for a broad, increasingly inclusive, though still problematic, alternative to traditional and oppressive modes of being. These movements were peopled with characters worthy of grand, gritty fiction, including: Louise Bryant, Emma Goldman, John Reed, Hutchins Hapgood, Neith Boyce, Margaret Sanger, Randolph Bourne, Margaret Anderson, Max Eastman, Crystal Eastman, and Susan Glaspell. The resilience of the women is particularly striking. Stansell’s clear voice and excellent scholarship couldn’t be put to better use than they are here, in the complicated telling of this compelling, fractious, and momentous period of history.
  • Motivation: I was thirteen or fourteen when I became interested in the history of activism and feminism. The only things that have changed since then are my knowledge and level of personal involvement in these areas. I also love the literature and pop culture of the earliest years of the twentieth century.
  • Times Read: 3 or 4
  • Random Excerpt/Page 28: “As women lingered at the edges of these urbane circles, they added a sense of themselves as heroines in a new story to bohemia’s increasing store of plots. Just as bohemian identity was intimately intertwined with its representation in print, so was being a New Woman: what one read shaped how one lived.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10+++
    Crystal Eastman was a noted anti-militarist, w...

    Crystal Eastman was a noted anti-militarist, who helped found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)