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Irving:  History, Tales and Sketches
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on May 12, 2000
[I recommend this anthology specifically for "Diedrich Knickerbocker's History of New York," which was not listed by amazon.com as a separate title.]
Irving is best-known for his short stories, which are excellent examples of folk literature (and not likely the sole product of Irving's imagination). "History of New York," however, is what established his reputation in his own lifetime. It was the first real American bestseller and the first American novel to garner critical respect overseas. Irving's ingenious marketing scheme for the novel (placing a series of letters in New York newspapers concerning the disappearance of the book's supposed author, Diedrich Knickerbocker) was the first instance of off-the-book page publicity in America and its success (it created a veritable frenzy upon the novel's publication) would not be duplicated for many, many years.
The novel itself is funny, acerbic, charming and illuminating. Working in the tradition of European satire, Knickerbocker's History is nonetheless distinctly American. Some knowledge of early American history will enhance your understanding of the novel (by helping you recognize which American public figures the Dutch governors are standing in for), but it is not necessary to an appreciation of the novel on its own terms. The book was published in several (revised) editions. I recommend seeking out the 1809 or 1812 edition, as Irving toned down his political arguments in later versions (though the comparison between early versions and the 1848 edition is also worth noting). This anthology contains the 1809 edition of the novel.
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