cover image All Our Yesterdays: A Century of Family Life in an American Small Town

All Our Yesterdays: A Century of Family Life in an American Small Town

James Oliver Robertson. HarperCollins Publishers, $30 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-06-019017-0

Historian James Oliver Robertson ( American Myth, American Reality ) and novelist Janet C. Robertson ( Journal Home ), a married couple, bought a sprawling old house in the northeastern Connecticut town of Hampton in the mid-1960s; several years later they began to learn its history when a former owner gave them a cache, spanning 150 years, of letters and other papers concerning the house's former inhabitants. That ``treasure trove'' inspired this narrative, a spirited reconstruction of work, diet, courtship and town life in the 19th century. Revealing citations from documents like the ribald letters of a young man ca. 1820 and an 1860s Yale student's meticulous account of school expenses, including cocaine, afford lively and surprising perspectives. The Robertsons sometimes step back for a larger picture: they suggest the vigor of the mid-19th-century town as the churches became separate from political life and cosmopolitanism filtered in through letters from travelers in Europe. They also reflect on their own deepening involvement with Hampton and conclude happily that they could acquire ``roots in a past that did not seem to belong to us.'' Illustrations not seen by PW. $25,000 ad/promo; BOMC alternate; author tour. (Apr.)