This delightful book brings together 160 famous American figures from Pocahontas to Louis Armstrong, providing visual and verbal portraits that illuminate their place in American life. The portraiture -- painting, sculpture, photograph, or cartoon -- is paired with literary images taken from eyewitness accounts, memoirs, poems, letters, and biographies, and with lively and informative commentary by the editors, R. W. B. and Nancy Lewis. The whole is a rich addition to American cultural history.
The gallery of portraits includes statesmen and outlaws, artists and athletes, and writers and performers, all described by commentators who are equally colorful and illustrious. The book features, for example, John Guare on Eugene O'Neill, Al Capone on himself, Adlai Stevenson on Eleanor Roosevelt, Pete Seeger on Woody Guthrie, Stieglitz and O'Keeffe on each other, e. e. cummings on Buffalo Bill Cody, Arthur Ashe on Joe Louis, and Gertrude Stein on Ulysses S. Grant. Some of the verbal portraits were composed especially for this book, among them Harold Bloom on Joseph Smith, Russell Baker on H. L. Mencken, John Hollander on Wallace Stevens, John Updike on Ernest Hemingway, and Robert B. Parker on Dashiell Hammett. All of the images are from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, where R. W. B. Lewis has been a member of the Board of Commissioners since 1986. [via]