“The Most Neglected Books of the Past 25 Years,” published in The American Scholar, Autumn 1956


To mark the magazine’s 25th anniversary, the editors of The American Scholar “asked a number of distinguished scholars, writers, and thinkers to name that book published during the past quarter of a century which they believed to have been the most undeservedly neglected. We were aware, of course, that the phrase ‘the most undeservedly neglected’ was open to various interpretations. What we had in mind was the selection of a book which, although of striking merit, did not seem to our correspondent to have received either the critical recognition or the general audience that he or she believed it to deserve.”

Although many of the titles nominated by the contributors remained as negected after its publication as before, the article did succeed most resoundingly in resurrecting at least one superb book: Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep, which was reissued in paperback by Avon Books a few years later and which has remained in print ever since.


Academic Illusions in the Field of Letters and the Arts, Martin Schützeselected by Lionel Trilling

“…a critical investigation of the methods of scholarship in the humanities which prevailed in the graduate schools of the day, and which do still prevail, although less rigorously…. It still seems to me that Schütze’s plan for graduate study in the humanities is the most intelligent I have ever come across, and entirely feasible.”

The Adventures of Ideas, Alfred North Whiteheadselected by Douglas Copland

“No book could offer more guidance on the basic perspective in which we should view this world and on how to adjust our knowledge and experience of the past to the problems of a new world, all happening in one generation, than Whitehead’s The Adventures of Ideas. ‘Without adventure civilization is in full decay.’”

America of José Martí, José Martíselected by German Arciniegas

“One of the greatest writers of America, Martí had a clearer vision of the United States than any other Latin-American writer.”

The Art of Walt Disney, Robert D. Fieldselected by Howard Mumford Jones

“… Mr. Feild’s was the first close aesthetic analysis of a unique American art, that of the animated cartoon brought to a level of genuine artistic achievement…. Mr. Feild’s approach was intelligent and sensitive — and, for that matter, still is. I think that neither the general reader nor the critic is aware of its importance.”

The Attack on the Leviathan: Regionalism and Nationalism in the United States, Donald Davidsonselected by Russell Kirk

“It is more than the chief accomplishment of the talented group called the Southern Agrarians: it is the most telling analysis in our time of the dread strength of the Leviathan, that oppressive centralization which stifles liberty and art and all the proliferating variety of civilized existence.”

Call It Sleep, Henry Rothselected by Alfred Kazin

“… there is a wonderful novel of a little boy’s first years in a Brooklyn jungle, Call It Sleep, by Henry Roth, which is the deepest and most authentic, and certainly the most unforgettable, example of this much-tried subject that I know.”

Call It Sleep, Henry Rothselected by Leslie Fiedler

“For sheer virtuosity, Call It Sleep is hard to beat; no one has ever distilled such poetry and wit from the counterpoint between the maimed English and the subtle Yiddish of the immigrant. No one has reproduced so sensitively the terror of family life in the imagination of a child caught between two cultures.”

The Captive Mind, Czeslaw Miloszselected by Ernest J. Simmons

The Captive Mind elicited only a gentle moan in American intellectual circles when it appeared, yet it studied with deep wisdom and illuminated with penetrating poetic insight one of the central problems of our age — the extraordinarily successful attempt to subdue the free artistic spirit to the pseudoscientific method of dialectical materialism.”

Concord River, William Brewsterselected by Lewis Gannett

“… by a man who knew Concord’s woods, fields and ponds better than Thoreau and shared an inner ecstacy with John Muir…. Like Thoreau’s Brewster’s journals saw publication only after his death. They await rediscovery.”

Conversation with the Earth, Hans Cloosselected by Kirtley F. Mather

“It surely deserves more recognition and a far wider audience that it seems thus far to have attracted. It is one of the few truly lasting books written for the general reader during recent years by a man of great scientific stature — an author who combines the scientist’s stern habits of sober observation and strict deduction with the artist’s gentle spirit of contemplation and empathy.”

The End of the World, Geoffrey Dennisselected by Morris Bishop

“It treats of the greatest of subjects: How? When? Which first? What after? It does so by means of a glorious space-time imagination, prickling humor and strange learning, sounded forth in mighty organ-tones, its diapason sounding full on man. And it has one of the finest last lines in literature.”

Essays and Addresses, John Burnetselected by David Daiches

“… some of the most searching discussion of education I have ever read. Burnet was concerned with the interrelationship between language, philosophy, and the history of science, and with the conditions under which any study could become part of a liberal education.”

Five Cities, George R. Leightonselected by Eric Larrabee

“The technique of illuminating documentary realism with a glow of incandescent humanity owes much to George R. Leighton, who first wrote the community ‘profiles’ in his Five Cities as magazine articles…. there are few equal to it in literal and emotional fidelity to the buried and anonymous half of our history that we have only theoretically digested.”

Force and Freedom: Reflections on History, Jacob Burckhardtselected by George N. Shuster

“In this case only the English version is less than twenty-five years old. The original had its genesis almost a hundred years ago. But it is one of the great books of the century, and I hope many will read it.”

From Day to Day, Odd Nansenselected by Carl Sandburg

“The dust jacket said, ‘This diary of the author’s years in Nazi bondage takes its place among the great affirmations of the power of the human spirit to rise above terror, torture, and death.’”

The Glass Bead Game: Magister Ludi, Hermann Hesseselected by Henry C. Hatfield

“The theme of the book, set within a simple fable, is the value, and the limitation, of the ideal of pure intellect. The novel is a protest against the barbarism of recent years.”

The Great Wall Crumbles, Grover Clarkselected by James T. Shotwell

“… a scholarly and thoughtful analysis of the history of China and the way in which it had to be interpreted to understand what was happening in the early 1930′s.”

In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeckselected by Henri Peyre

“… deserve[s], in my opinion, a very much higher place than they have been assigned by most reviewers; while other books by Steinbeck, will, I believe, appear as secondary works, spoiled by lack of artistic restraint and by sentimentality.”

Intellectual Things, Stanley Kunitzselected by John Ciardi

“Kunitz still remains an almost unknown and unread poet…. the collection is studded with gems that should not be missed.”

Jacob Burckhardt, Briefe zur Erkenntniss seiner geistigen Gestalt, Jacob Burckhardt, ed. Fritz Kaphahnselected by Lewis Galantière

“I know that as often as I go back to this granite humanist I shall not be the dupe of my own optimism when I consider the problem of liberty in democracy.”

Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future, Olaf Stapledonselected by Elmer Davis

“Though a remarkably brilliant view of the next two billion years of human history (as they might be, but not necessarily will be), it seems to be now retired to the interesting but unimportant classification of science fiction.”

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee and Walker Evansselected by William Carlos Williams

The passionate humanity and technical ability in the writing make James Agee and Walker Evans’ book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, even without the pictures, one of the most critically neglected books published during the past quarter century…. Let us dare to vaunt our claims to fame alongside those defeated and puzzled but valorous lives of the men, women and even children of the South during the Depression years.”

Letters, D.H. Lawrenceselected by Henri Peyre

“… there are a number of devotees of D. H. Lawrence’s Letters and of his long short stories, but far from enough….”

Look Down in Mercy, Walter Baxterselected by Henri Peyre

“… [one of the] very remarkable English novels, even … truly great novels, in the production of the last ten or fifteen years….”

The Memoirs of George Sherston, Siegfried Sassoonselected by H. M. Tomlinson

It is time that Sigfried Sassoon’s autobiography in several volumes — some of it republished under the title of The Memoirs of George Sherston — was acknowledged as the materpiece of English prose it is. But it is as quiet and full of sunny humor as a water color by Constable; that may explain why it has not attracted the attention given to the usual trumpet blast.”

Mercy of the Court, by Monica Porterselected by H. A. Overstreet

“I myself have read countless pages about juvenile delinquency, but never before have I epxerienced through the printed page so poignant a caring as in this story of a delinquent boy perilously at bay in a Michigan court of law. This is a book that belongs with all enduring fiction because in its human essence it is enduringly true.”

The Night of Time, René Fülop-Millerselected by Hiram Haydn

“A stirking and vivid novel about war that transcends the all too familiar limitations of this genre, The Night of Time was ignored or misunderstood by all but a handful of critics and reviewers, and had a very small distribution. Yet this book is, I believe, an ‘undiscovered classic,’ certainly one of the most extraordinary novels I have ever read.”

The North Atlantic Triangle, John Bartlett Brebnerselected by Guy Stanton Ford

“I have seen no work that equally caught the majestic sweep in the march of the Siamese twins across a vacant continent or so deftly wove geography and economics into the web of history.”

Not Guilty: The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made Against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials, John Dewey, Chairmanselected by Sidney Hook

“This book contains one of the most exhaustive and penetrating analyses of the philosophy and organization of communism…. It still makes fascinating reading as an exemplification of both brilliant use of scientific method and devotion to freedom.”

Partage de Midi (Break at Noon), Paul Claudelselected by Henri Peyre

“… the greatest dramatic work of the century in French, probably.”

Posthistoric Man, an Inquiry, Roderick Seidenbergselected by Crane Brinton

“Roderick Seidenberg’s suggestive inquiry, Posthistoric Man, an Inquiry, into the possible future of mankind deserved, I think, something of the same kind of critical consideration Toynbee received…. a useful antidote … to the ‘soft’ approach of Toynbee, Northrop, and other prophets of doom.”

Pylon, William Faulknerselected by Harvey Brett

“… it has some of the deepest insight and vision into the business of the flying machine and the men who ride them. I was never the same about planes after Pylon, and the truth is that Faulkner made me know them as live and fearsome flying animals.”

The Recognitions, William Gaddisselected by W. G. Rogers

“A fierce challenge to our standards, it tells of values forged and counterfeited; if it is not true, it is filled with the intimations of truthfulness found in enduring work. A highly readable story and brilliant writing are combined with extraordinary erudition and a scathing dissection of society.”

The Root and the Flower, L.H. Myersselected by Orville Prescott

“This intellectually exciting work is that exceedingly rare delight, a novel of ideas in which the elements of creative fiction, subtly realized characters and a story of sustained interest, have not been omitted to make room for the ideas…. A noble and great book, The Root and the Flower is also a masterpiece of urbanity, wit and beautiful writing.”

Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopoldselected by Paul B. Sears

[Quoting F. Fraser Darling]: “Aldo Leopold was the man above all others in America who reduced an immense body of sentiment and goodwill for conservation to reasoned, documented, scientific reality …. His influence is all about.”

Serenade to the Big Bird, by Bert Stilesselected by Bonaro Overstreet

“What goes on within the mind — the personality structure — of the college student abruptly converted into the fighting man? Serenade to the Big Bird by Bert Stiles answers that question about one member of the Army Air Force: Bert Stiles of Colorado who, at the age of twenty-three, was shot down on an escort mission over Germany. It is a book to read — and remember.”

The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilderselected by Granville Hicks

“Almost no one has pointed out that here is not only a play to be smiled at, but also a book to be thought about, a book in which a discerning author communicates his sense of the human condition.”

The Song of the World, Jean Gionoselected by Henri Peyre

“… towering far above the average output of good books, differing not only in degree, but in nature (which may well constitute the hallmark of genius), from ‘good’ or ‘significant’ books published in the last few decades.”

Sonnets, William Shakespeare, ed. By Hyder Rollinsselected by Douglas Bush

“… Rollins’ encyclopedic analysis of the problems, his cool and astringent presentation of sense and nonsense, stands as a solid corrective to ignorance and extravagance.”

Symbol and Metaphor in Human Experience, Martin Fossselected by Marianne Moore

“I may have been inattentive, but I am inclined to think that Symbol and Metaphor in Human Experience by Martin Foss has not been sufficiently emphasized in the press.”

The Time of Man, Elizabeth Madox Robertsselected by J. Donald Adams

“I would place it in a list of our ten best works of fiction for its extraordinary psychology and its quality of universal truth.”

To Begin With: Being Prophylaxis Against Pedantry, Raymond Pearlselected by Gerald W. Johnson

“In form it is a bibliography — but what a bibliography! It lives up to its subtitle, and no antibiotic is more effective against physical infection than this is against pedantry, that streptococcus of the spirit.”

Treatise on Money, John Maynard Keynesselected by Seymour E. Harris

“… one of the most masterly surveys of economic history tied to a theoretical framework.”

Union Now: A Proposal for a Federal Union of the Democracies of the North Atlantic, Clarence K. Streitselected by Erwin D. Canham

“… this book may be one of the turning points in history. We may look back to it as the clearest and most compelling statement of the urgent need of Western unity if civilization is to survive.”

Witness to the Truth: Christ and His Interpreters, Edith Hamiltonselected by Brooks Atkinson

“Without being in any sense a crusading or pious boo, it penetrates through the mystification that surrounds the name of Christ to the simplicities of His teachings…. the most illuminating book on Christ and Christianity that I have read.”

World Order (Civitas Dei), Lionel Curtisselected by Erwin D. Canham

“If I may mention a companion book in the same field [as Union Now], I would mention World Order (Civitas Dei) by Lionel Curtis.