American Lives is a groundbreaking book, the first historically organized anthology of American autobiographical writing, bringing us fifty-five voices from throughout the nation's history, from Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Jonathan Edwards, and Richard Wright to Quaker preacher Elizabeth Ashbridge, con man Stephen Burroughs, and circus impresario P.T. Barnum. Representing canonical and non-canonical writers, slaves and slave-owners, generals and conscientious objectors, scientists, immigrants, and Native Americans, the pieces in this collection make up a rich gathering of American “songs of ourselves.”
Robert F. Sayre frames the selections with an overview of theory and criticism of autobiography and with commentary on the relation between history and many kinds of autobiographical texts—travel narratives, stories of captivity, diaries of sexual liberation, religious conversions, accounts of political disillusionment, and discoveries of ethnic identity. With each selection Sayre also includes an extensive headnote providing valuable critical and biographical information.
A scholarly and popular landmark, American Lives is a book for general readers and for teachers, students, and every American scholar.