An American evolution


"Studs Terkel will not be with us tonight," the usher murmured to people entering Harold Washington Library's Cindy Pritzker Auditorium on Monday. "Should we send a card around?" an audience member asked. "We're big fans."

Author, historian, and broadcaster Terkel, PhB'32, JD'34, was scheduled to be part of the Chicago stop on the The American Idea: The Best of the Atlantic Monthly (Doubleday, 2007) book tour, along with the book's editor Robert Vare, AB'67, AM'70, and writer William Least Heat-Moon. Instead, the 95-year-old's close friend, journalist and author Alex Kotlowitz, stood in. "I feel like an understudy," Kotlowitz said, before he read an excerpt from Terkel's Pulitzer Prize–winning The Good War, which Vare chose to include in The American Idea.

The Atlantic's editor-at-large, Vare took on the challenge of sifting through 150 years of issues for the book, looking for the magazine's "most influential writers," he said. Founded in 1857 by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, the Atlantic was established to monitor and explore "the American idea," as the founders announced in their mission statement. Though the meaning of the "American idea" was never made clear, Vare said, the statement was an "implicit promise to the readers to take on America's most perennially relevant questions."


Photo: Audience members line up to have their copies of The American Idea signed by William Least Heat-Moon and Robert Vare.

October 24, 2007