Lincoln's Smile and Other Enigmas

Alan Trachtenberg, Author . Hill & Wang $27 (378p) ISBN 978-0-8090-4297-5

One of America's leading cultural historians, Trachtenberg (Shades of Hiawatha ) has gathered together his essays from the last 40 years. Those who know Trachtenberg's work will recognize much that is familiar. The essay "Brooklyn Bridge as a Cultural Text," for example, plays with ideas that found their most mature expression in his pathbreaking book on the same topic. Many other essays take up Trachtenberg's interest in photographs; the title essay uses portraits of Lincoln to look at the 19th-century belief that photographs of faces reveal the subject's inner essence. Another fascinating piece examines the extent to which Walker Evans's Depression-era photographs created, rather than revealed, images of the South that to this day shape national discourse about the region. Trachtenberg is a gifted stylist, and he generally avoids academic jargon; still, his prose is dense, and not everyone will have the patience for sentences such as "Newspapers respond... to the increasing mystification, the deepening estrangement of urban space from interpenetration, from exchange of subjectivities." This book is episodic, and highlighted with many moments of brilliance—such as the analysis of the political meanings of daguerreotypes in the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne and a discussion of deadpan in the work of Mark Twain that will please devotees. (Feb. )

Reviewed on: 11/06/2006
Release date: 01/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 378 pages - 978-0-8090-6573-8
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-1-4299-2342-2
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