Many of the essays Phillip Lopate has gathered here address themselves—sometimes critically—to American values, but even in those that don't, one can detect a subtext about being American. Lopate has cast his net intentionally wide, embracing critical, personal, political, philosophical, humorous, literary, polemical, and autobiographical essays, and making room for sermons, letters, speeches, and columns dealing with a wide variety of subjects.
Lopate’s anthology is a treasure trove, a word hoard, a bonanza, perfect for dipping into and rifling through. There are comic delights from Thurber and Dorothy Parker, fine-tuned naturalism from Rachel Carson, John Burroughs, and Loren Eiseley, and, above all, sallies at that constant American topic, personal identity ... Whatever one thinks about the United States, The Glorious American Essay is a superb guide to the nation’s most adventurous and searching forays into prose.
... another enormous, endlessly fortifying mixture of famous works and neglected gems that can take pride of place on anyone’s bedside table for months before its pleasures come close to being exhausted ... Juxtaposition is one consequence of variety, and it’s delightful to find Albert Einstein nipping at the heels of James Thurber, or Norman Mailer and Rachel Carson writing from the same year (1955) but in wildly different registers.
If, in contemporary culture, we tend to regard the essay as inherently personal, Lopate reminds us that it has been, and remains, a mechanism of social and political expression, as well ... Lopate is attempting to ground an argument for a kind of intellectual or narrative continuity to our collective history, to trace overlapping lineages of thought ... I can’t really argue with the presence of any essay here. As an essayist, I admire them. As a teacher, I am already thinking about which ones to assign ... At the same time, I would have welcomed a few more iconoclastic selections because the essay is a vehicle of iconoclasm.