Ziff explains the ways in which the American background of these writers informed their impressions of foreign scenes and shows how America served always as the final object of the critical scrutiny they brought to bear on other people and their lands.
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In this arresting book, Larzer Ziff traces the history of distinctively American travel writing through the stories of five great representatives. John Ledyard (1752-1789) sailed with Captain Cook, walked across the Russian empire, and attempted to find a transcontinental route across North America. John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852), who today is recognized as the father of Maya archaeology, uncovered hundreds of ruins in two expeditions to the Yucatan and Central America, and he also was one of the first Americans to reach the Arabia Petrae. Bayard Taylor (1825-1878) invented travel writing as a profession. The only writer on Commodore Perry's expedition to Japan, he traveled also to Europe, Africa, India, and the Arctic Circle solely for the purpose of producing books about these journeys. Finally, in Mark Twain's unabashed concentration on the haps and mishaps of the tourist and Henry James's strikingly different cosmopolitan accounts of European sites and societies, travel writing conclusively emerged as great art.