De Voto (1897-1955), the American critic and historian, was editor of Saturday Review from 1936 to 1938 (succeeding Henry Seidel Canby) and wrote the ‘Easy Chair’ column for Harper’s Magazine from 1935 until his death. Author of a trilogy of histories covering the westward expansion across the frontier (including Across the Wide Missouri (1947)), he is best known for his studies of Mark Twain, such as Mark Twain’s America, which stressed Twain’s frontier background. In this review De Voto examines Dos Passos’s development as a writer and questions the accuracy of his social history. He also notes Dos Passos’s failure to invent memorable characters.
John Dos Passos has developed more consistently than any other American novelist of his time. With the exception of Streets of Night, which fell far below Three Soldiers and is surely one of the worst novels of the generation, every book he has written has been distinctly better than its predecessors. The Big Money is better than 1919, which came out four years ago and was then easily his best novel. Whether it is the end of a trilogy, or whether it will be succeeded by a volume carrying the anatomy of our times still closer to today’s headlines, cannot be made out—the method of discontinuity does not permit endings but only terminations, and there is no reason why the surviving Richard Savage, Margo Dowling, and Mary French should not move on into the