Whittemore continues to build upon his reputation in the field of biography with ""Six Literary Lives"" in which he attempts to deepen our understanding of six major American writers. Whittemore's subjects - Henry Adams, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, William Carlos Williams, John Dos Passos, and Allen Tate - were writers of widely diverse talents and interests. However, Whittemore says, they all shared a ""common climate of thought"", a 19th-century view, now unfashionable, of literature's role in our culture. Although each biography could stand alone, Whittemore focuses on the ideas - literary, scientific, cultural - that united these six literary lives and emphasizes the shared impiety. The book is an experiment in group biography with an ideological base. Using as a foundation American culture before World War II, which Daniel Bell described as ""the end of ideology"", Whittemore introduces these biographies with a discussion of the intellectual climate these writers shared. There is also a supplementary essay on three naturalists - Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, and Gerard Manley Hopkins - who shared similarly impious mind-sets. ""Six Literary Lives"" reasserts values of character and art that have been belittled or attacked in the late 20th century. The six figures studied here were all aggressive individuals ill at ease with solidarity. Their personal relations were slight, yet their common underlying stance, in relation to their culture illuminates both that culture and, by comparison, our own.
Reed Whittemore is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Maryland and is author of numerous books, including The Poet as Journalist: Life at the New Republic and William Carlos Williams: Poet from Jersey. He has also written many volumes of poetry, including The Past, The Future, the Present; The Feel of Rock; and The Mother's Breast and the Father's House.