George Cotkin's Existential America is an ambitious attempt to probe the origins and development of an attitude that cut through much of the social, political, and cultural history of the United States. According to the author, the existential grounds of American culture from the early settlements onwards “functioned not as benumbing forces, but as goads to action and commitment” (p. 7). Along with native sources such as transcendentalism, pragmatism, and the most prominent members of the American Renaissance, Cotkin includes Søren Kierkegaard, whose work he deems to be crucial in the development of existentialism in America since the late 1940s, vis-à-vis its French counterparts. I find very illuminating the tension that Cotkin details between the New York intellectuals, on the one hand, and the European existentialists, especially Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beau-voir, on the other. Also, he sheds light on the...

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