About every twenty years, more or less, American intellectuals rediscover religion. And, about every thirty years, more or less, American intellectuals rediscover the Civil War. We are at present, I fear, in one of those periods of harmonic convergence, when American intellectuals have rediscovered both God and the Civil War at the same time. Famed critic Alfred Kazin’s latest book, God and the American Writer, is a prime example of what takes place when this epiphany happens to someone to whom these topics are not merely terra nova, but terra incognita.

God and the American Writer is an old-fashioned book of literary criticism. It consists of twelve “trenchant critical studies”—to quote the publicity material—and a prelude and afterword. The subjects range, in chronological order, from Hawthorne to Faulkner, with stops in between for Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe,...


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