Philadelphia Stories: America's Literature of Race and Freedom. By Samuel Otter.


The central theme of Samuel Otter's Philadelphia Stories is the idea that the one-time capital city of the United States was conceptualized from the outset as a social laboratory, the site of a large-scale social experiment. The idea of an experiment, which of course suffused much of the way early Americans thought about their new government and evolving social structure, drives an analysis that repeatedly emphasizes the self-consciousness that informed Philadelphians' willingness to try new approaches to old problems, or, in some cases, their appetite to tackle the new problems that had been created and were emerging out of the new circumstances of race and democracy in the early United States. Although literary history forms the central axis of Otter's analysis, he weaves together a diverse range of materials, including novels, social theory, politics, art and architecture, and social history to offer a fascinating account of the cultural, social, and intellectual history of Philadelphia from the American Revolution through the Civil War.