In this arresting book, Larzer Ziff traces the history of distinctively American travel writing through the stories of five great representatives. John Ledyard (1752–1789) sailed with Captain Cook, walked across the Russian empire, and attempted to find a transcontinental route across North America. John Lloyd Stephens (1805–1852), who today is recognized as the father of Maya archaeology, uncovered hundreds of ruins in two expeditions to the Yucatan and Central America, and he also was one of the first Americans to reach the Arabia Petrae. Bayard Taylor (1825–1878) invented travel writing as a profession. The only writer on Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan, he traveled also to Europe, Africa, India, and the Arctic Circle solely for the purpose of producing books about these journeys. Finally, in Mark Twain’s unabashed concentration on the haps and mishaps of the tourist and Henry James’s strikingly different cosmopolitan accounts of European sites and societies, travel writing conclusively emerged as great art.
Ziff explains the ways in which the American background of these writers informed their impressions of foreign scenes and shows how America served always as the final object of the critical scrutiny they brought to bear on other people and their lands.
Book News Ziff (English, Johns Hopkins) traces the history of American travel writing from the end of the Revolution to the outbreak of WWI. The author commences with two men who traveled first and later wrote about it. John Ledyard (1752-1789) became arguably the first professional and copyrighted author in the US with his memoirs of travels with Captain Cook, and John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852) discovered hundreds of ruins in the Yucatan and Central America. Ziff continues with two writers who traveled to gather material: Bayard Taylor (1852-1878) journeyed not only far and wide but also diversified his means of travel (dhows, reindeer sleighs, banghy carts, warships) to invigorate his narratives; and Mark Twain (1835-1910), who when he wrote Innocents Abroad (1869), was a roving correspondent skewering sentimental travel books, tourists, and European monuments. Henry James (1843-1916), a logical and temporal conclusion to this American travel pantheon, seemed equal parts writer and traveler. Through these five, an array of styles and attitudes emerge, united primarily by a contemplation of an increasingly problematic American identity. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)