The “affective turn” in literary criticism has been a remarkably generative one by any measure. Broad inaugural studies of affect have prepared the ground for specialized projects like these three impressive books. Each takes a single affective trope and unpacks its multivalent significance in potentially field-changing ways.

Carrie Tirado Bramen’s sweeping and engaging cultural history explores the flipside of the “ugly American” stereotype. It traces how Americans became identified with amiability both at home and abroad as the nation developed from a nascent republic to an imperial power by the end of the nineteenth century. Niceness, likability, sociality, friendliness, openness—all compose a sensibility that Bramen terms “manifest cheerfulness” and reveals to be essential to the national and international fantasy of US exceptionalism. Imputed niceness, she shows, has functioned as both a form of soft diplomacy that balances out “military might and economic...

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