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Picks and Pans Review: Small Town America

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by Richard Lingeman

The small town was pivotal in this country’s development, and Lingeman, an editor and critic, begins his social history in 1620. Religion played a key role in the early New England towns, but the pioneer villages of the Midwest often began with a gristmill. The mining camps, with their tents, and the cow towns, with friendly open doors, were products of unique eras. Railroad towns were distinguished by their isolation. The best chapter is the epilogue in which the author goes to the hometowns (and literary settings) of Sinclair Lewis, Mark Twain, Edgar Lee Masters, Willa Cather and Sherwood Anderson. They all conveyed special truths about life in those “dreamy, dozing, pastoral towns…poised on the brink of the industrial revolution.” The book will stir nostalgia, and perhaps envy, among urban readers. (Putnam, $15.95)