It isn’t often that one is asked, in a volume of literary criticism, a question on the order of: what is the most important event in modern history? But this is precisely what Martin Green asks toward the end of his newest book, The Great American Adventure.[1]1 shall return to his question in due course, but first let me say that this book, which the publisher describes as dealing with “action stories from Cooper to Mailer and what they reveal about American manhood,” is not a work of historical analysis. It is instead a study of a dozen American adventure books seen as a reflection of America’s “caste system” and her “imperialism,” as these have shaped American “manliness.”

In subjecting these cultural phenomena to a moral and political critique, Green offers a pretense of historical coverage by...

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