Aaron Sachs at Harvard Book Store


Up from the Depths:
Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford,
and Rediscovery in Dark Times


June 17, 2022
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes professor of history and American studies at Cornell University AARON SACHS for a discussion of his new book Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times.

A Return to In-Person Events

Harvard Book Store is excited to re-introduce in-person programming this season. To ensure the safety and comfort of everyone in attendance, the following Covid-19 safety protocols will be in place at all of our Harvard Book Store events until further notice:

  • Face coverings are required of all staff and attendees when inside the store. Masks must snugly cover nose and mouth.

About Up From the Depths

Up from the Depths tells the interconnected stories of two of the most important writers in American history―the novelist and poet Herman Melville (1819–1891) and one of his earliest biographers, the literary critic and historian Lewis Mumford (1895–1990). Deftly cutting back and forth between the writers, Aaron Sachs reveals the surprising resonances between their lives, work, and troubled times―and their uncanny relevance in our own age of crisis.

The author of Moby-Dick was largely forgotten for several decades after his death, but Mumford helped spearhead Melville’s revival in the aftermath of World War I and the 1918–1919 flu pandemic, when American culture needed a forebear with a suitably dark vision. As Mumford’s career took off and he wrote books responding to the machine age, urban decay, world war, and environmental degradation, it was looking back to Melville’s confrontation with crises such as industrialization, slavery, and the Civil War that helped Mumford to see his own era clearly. Mumford remained obsessed with Melville, ultimately helping to canonize him as America’s greatest tragedian. But largely forgotten today is one of Mumford’s key insights―that Melville’s darkness was balanced by an inspiring determination to endure.

Amid today’s foreboding over global warming, racism, technology, pandemics, and other crises, Melville and Mumford remind us that we’ve been in this struggle for a long time. To rediscover these writers today is to rediscover how history can offer hope in dark times.

Praise for Up From the Depths

Up from the Depths is a beautifully written, wise, and original book. Aaron Sachs’s account of Lewis Mumford’s decades-long engagement with Herman Melville’s work invites us to think anew about why we are drawn to certain forebears as our intellectual companions on life’s journey. The book is also a passionate plea that we confront our current ecological crisis with the same urgency Mumford and Melville brought to the modern terrors of their times.” ―Casey Nelson Blake, coauthor of At the Center: American Thought and Culture in the Mid-Twentieth Century

“In this immensely thoughtful book, Aaron Sachs explores the shared uncertainty of Herman Melville and Lewis Mumford―two brilliant writers who were not always sure where to direct their energies in their uncertain times. But this is a book for our time and for anyone who is seeking direction by reflecting on the past.” ―John Kaag, author of Sick Souls, Healthy Minds: How William James Can Save Your Life

"Aaron Sachs's intellectual biography of Melville and Mumford is an inspired work, both in conception and execution. Magnificently written, Up from the Depths will move readers with Sachs’s empathetic channeling of Melville's and Mumford's meditations on the nature and meaning of history." ―Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, author of The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History

Aaron Sachs
Aaron Sachs

Aaron Sachs

Aaron Sachs is professor of history and American studies at Cornell University. He is the author of The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism and Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition.

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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