The American Idea: The Best of The Atlantic Monthly


New York – September 28, 2007

What is ‘the American idea’? It is the fractious, maddening approach to the conduct of human affairs that values equality despite its elusiveness, that values democracy despite its debasement, that values pluralism despite its messiness, that values the institutions of civic culture despite their flaws, and that values public life as something higher and greater than the sum of all our private lives. The founders of the magazine valued these things, and they valued the immense amount of effort it takes to preserve them from generation to generation. (The Editors of The Atlantic Monthly)

This fall, The Atlantic Monthly celebrates its 150th year of continuous publication – an astonishing feat given the notorious fragility of American magazines. To commemorate this remarkable milestone, Doubleday will publish THE AMERICAN IDEA: The Best of The Atlantic Monthly; 150 Years of Writers and Thinkers Who Shaped Our History, edited by Robert Vare.

More than a collection, this is a profound work of American history-bringing together seventy-eight of the magazine’s most acclaimed and influential articles, essays, humor pieces, stories, and poems by many of the literary, intellectual, and political giants who have defined our national life.

Organized thematically and enriched by comprehensive introductory head notes for each selection, this amazing anthology features such renowned essays as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Henry David Thoreau’s “Walking,” and Bernard Lewis’s “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” as well as the gripping narratives that made Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine, William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, and William Langewiesche’s American Ground touchstones of American nonfiction.

The collection also highlights some of The Atlantic’s finest moments in fiction and poetry-from the likes of Twain, Whitman, Frost, Hemingway, Nabokov, and Bellow-affirming the central role of literature in illuminating and challenging American society.

In The Atlantic’s very first issue, in 1857, the magazine’s founders – an illustrious group that included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell-declared that they would dedicate their new publication to monitoring the development, and advancing the cause, of what they called “the American idea.”

And for the last century and a half, the magazine has been preoccupied with the fundamental subjects of the American experience: war and peace, science and religion, the conundrum of race, the role of women, the plight of the cities, the struggle to preserve the environment, the strengths and failings of our politics, and especially, America’s proper place in the world.

This landmark collection of writings by the celebrated contributors of The Atlantic Monthly provides both a fascinating window on American history and a one-of-a-kind education in the evolution of American ideas. Serious and comic, touching and tough, THE AMERICAN IDEA paints a revealing portrait of who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.

About the editor:

Robert Vare is the editor at large of The Atlantic Monthly. He is a former editor at The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Magazine, where he edited the Pulitzer Prize-winning cover story “Grady’s Gift,” in 1991. In 2004, he was the editor of Things Worth Fighting For, a posthumously published collection of writings by Michael Kelly, the former Atlantic editor-in-chief who was killed while covering the war in Iraq. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, he has taught nonfiction writing at Yale and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

THE AMERICAN IDEA: The Best of The Atlantic Monthly

Edited by Robert Vare (Doubleday; On-Sale October 16, 2007; $35.00; 688 pages)

For more information, or to arrange an interview with the author or one of the contributors, please contact Elizabeth Hazelton at +001-212-782-8370 or

6 Responses to The American Idea: The Best of The Atlantic Monthly

  1. Steve Davis says:

    This should be an awesome volume. I eagerly await its publication. Thanks for posting about it.

    Steve Davis, Calgary, Alberta

  2. Cindy Lonergan says:

    I have Volumes from 1940 & 1941, anyone interested. I found them at my summer cottage. they smell a little musty but are basiclly in good shape. I really want to know if they have any other value other than to our personal family history.

  3. […] Weblinks zu zu The Atlantic OnlineThe American Idea: The Best of The Atlantic MonthlyOnline archive of Atlantic Monthly (up to December 1901)The Atlantic Monthly magazines at Project […]

  4. I found this a stimulating collection.
    The reflectively corrosive item from Joyce Carol Oates was great !

  5. elcidharth says:

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