Review of Samuel Cohen's 50 Essays
This anthology of makes an excellent introduction to the genre acceptable for any upper level high school to college-level composition class.
Along with the content, the instructor should take advantage of the extra materials. Tables of content are listed by page, theme, paired readings with casebooks, rhetorical mode, purpose and chronological order. These listing are a great guide to instructors when they construct a reading schedule, allowing them to use the right essay at the right time without having to keep many personal notes for arrangement. This set up saves a lot of time and effort on the teacher’s part, allowing him or her to focus on other aspects of the class not just the logistics of scheduling readings.
Both a documentation guide and glossary of writing terms are presented in the back of the book. For students these are a fantastic quick reference guides that give them fast access to information without having to thumb through bulky style manuals. The glossary definitions are also plainly worded enough to be accessible to students of all skill levels. These features are especially attractive to students who will want to keep track of as few textbooks as possible while making sure as much information is available as possible.
The rear of the book also contains excellent links for bedfordstmartins.com that provides additional resources and exercises for students and instructors. These online resources help the instructor deliver multimedia lessons with assistance from the publishing company. These elements are not required, but they prove helpful if an instructor chooses to use them.
Virtually all of the essays are first-rate works and even includes a variety of excerpts ranging from Platonic Dialogues to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickled and Dimed. Likewise, a fair number of controversial writers are represented for instructors who want to challenge their students. Authors like Malcolm X, Bernard Cooper, and Vicki Hearne all keep students on their toes in this collection. Not everything is so politically loaded, but this anthology is especially good for its commitments to both multifaceted issues and the technical craft of composition. The few questions at the end of each selection can be used for writing exercises or to promote discussion in class about the essay and its topic. Many questions also make connections to other essays in the collection allowing many readings to be paired and read to provide a range of positions on for any particular issue of compositional style. Newer editions makes some changes to the selections, but not to the point where a previous edition becomes useless.
Each essay is introduced with a thumbnail biographical sketch of the author. While this feature is nice for less advanced students, for others it can read more like a caricature of prolific and complex individuals such as Langston Hughes, Thomas Jefferson, or George Orwell.
Ultimately, this anthology is a fantastic bank of essays to provide students with examples of a variety of essayists each at the top of his or her game.
© 2010 Seth Tomko