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When Henry Smith's older brother goes into a coma after being hit by a Cambodian boy's pickup truck, the entire Smith family is engulfed in the tragedy. It takes a mountain, which Henry vows to climb, to open the eyes of this long-established Yankee family to their own prejudices and to an awareness that they can never insulate themselves against trouble.
In a literary environment dominated by men, the first American to earn a living as a writer and to establish a reputation on both sides of the Atlantic was, miraculously, a woman. Hannah Adams dared to enter - and in some ways was forced to enter - a sphere of literature that had, in eighteenth-century America, been solely a male province. Driven by poverty and necessity, and aided by an extraordinarily adept mind and keen sense of business, Adams authored works on New England history, sectarian history, and Jewish history, using and citing the most recent scholarly works being published in Great Britain and America. As a female writer, she would always remain something of an outsider, but her accomplishments did not by any means go unrecognized: embraced by the Boston intelligentsia and highly regarded throughout New England, Adams came to epitomize the possibility in a democratic society that anyone could rise to a circle of intellectual elites. In A Passionate Usefulness, the first book-length biography of this remarkable figure, Gary Schmidt focuses primarily on the intimate connection between Adams's reading and her own literary work.
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