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Gilbert Seldes, the author of The Stammering Century, writes:
This book is not a record of the major events in American history during
the nineteenth century. It is concerned with minor movements, with the
cults and manias of that period. Its personages are fanatics, and radicals,
and mountebanks. Its intention is to connect these secondary movements
and figures with the primary forces of the century, and to supply a
background in American history for the Prohibitionists and the Pentecostalists;
the diet-faddists and the dealers in mail-order Personality; the play censors
and the Fundamentalists; the free-lovers and eugenists; the cranks and
possibly the saints. Sects, cults, manias, movements, fads, religious
excitements, and the relation of each of these to the others and to the
orderly progress of America are the subject.
The subject is of course as timely at the beginning of the twenty-first century as when the book first appeared in 1928. Seldes’s fascinated and often sympathetic accounts of dreamers, rogues, frauds, sectarians, madmen, and geniuses from Jonathan Edwards to the messianic murderer Matthias have established The Stammering Century not only as a lasting contribution to American history but as a classic in its own right.
“One of the most perceptive and entertaining studies of the American spirit in the nineteenth century.” –Richard Hofstadter
“The quality of The Stammering Century lay in the fact that its author was interested in the history of his country, not to mock the past or to instruct the present, but for its own sake. Because he was a man of intelligence and sympathy, because his judgment was notably sane and because he worked hard in the sources, his book offered a remarkable picture of the rise and decay of the evangelical strain in American reform….The Stammering Century is a work of continuing vitality and interest.” –Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
“He [the reader] will find plenty in to excite his interest and stimulate his reflective powers. He will be continually wondering what is this thing in the mind of man which makes him love impossibilities, and not only believe in them but act on them. Many of Mr. Seldes’s moonshine captains are rogues and frauds, but many are honest dreamers, and many are men of incoherent power.” –The New York Times
“Mr. Gilbert Seldes has written a book which I for one have found extraordinarily delightful reading. Dealing as he does with all the cranks of the nineteenth century in America, he might easily have fallen into a tone of hard satire, but throughout he preserves a mood of wistful and whimsical regret….The Stammering Century is not only interesting psychologically and pathetic morally; it is also exceeding amusing, since most or the characters dealt with are delightful absurdities. Being myself inclined to crankdom, I have read the book as an awful warning, but those who have no inclination that way should read it humbly, with the realization that many of the most futile of these saints are authentically of the Kingdom of Heaven.” –Bertrand Russell