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Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times
September 28, 2022 @ 5:30 pm - 6:30 pm
Join author and historian Aaron Sachs for a free book signing and discussion of his latest book Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times (Princeton University Press) on Wednesday, September 28 at 5:30 pm. Sachs will be joined in discussion at Arrowhead by author and former University of Albany professor of literature Richard Matturro.
Aaron Sachs is professor of history and American studies at Cornell University. He is the author of The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism and Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition.
Up from the Depths tells the interconnected stories of two of the most important writers in American history—the novelist and poet Herman Melville (1819–1891) and one of his earliest biographers, the literary critic and historian Lewis Mumford (1895–1990). Deftly cutting back and forth between the writers, author Aaron Sachs reveals the surprising resonances between their lives, work, and troubled times—and their uncanny relevance in our own age of crisis.
The author of Moby-Dick was largely forgotten for several decades after his death, but Mumford helped spearhead Melville’s revival in the aftermath of World War I and the 1918–1919 flu pandemic, when American culture needed a forebear with a suitably dark vision. As Mumford’s career took off and he wrote books responding to the machine age, urban decay, world war, and environmental degradation, it was looking back to Melville’s confrontation with crises such as industrialization, slavery, and the Civil War that helped Mumford to see his own era clearly. Mumford remained obsessed with Melville, ultimately helping to canonize him as America’s greatest tragedian. But largely forgotten today is one of Mumford’s key insights—that Melville’s darkness was balanced by an inspiring determination to endure.
“Up From the Depths takes up the dialectic method so central to Melville’s writing for its unique investigation of parallel lives. . . . Fittingly, Mr. Sachs’s chapters interweave periods of the two men’s lives, creating a dappled effect of shared shadows and light. Certain biographical overlaps are particularly striking.” —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal