Though he perhaps remains best known for his landmark book The Environmental Imagination (1995), which helped both invent and formulate the field of American environmental criticism, Lawrence Buell has more characteristically sought to set a quizzical theoretical frame around relatively traditional objects of study, thus inviting readers to see old forms in new ways. This was the method of New England Literary Culture (1986), which historicized the growth and institutional development of transcendentalism, and of Emerson (2003), whose focus on the Sage of Concord’s broader philosophical dimensions might be seen as a productive reexamination of its subject in relation to what was then the embryonic field of world literature. Buell’s big new book, written from his recent translation out of teaching to Powell M. Cabot Research Professor at Harvard, similarly takes a familiar theme in the annals of American literature and probes...

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