A Time to Every Purpose

The Four Seasons in American Culture

By Michael Kammen

A Time to Every Purpose

400 pp., 7 x 10, 48 color and 65 b&w illus., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5465-2
    Published: May 2019

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In artworks from a mosaic by Marc Chagall to schoolchildren's paintings, in writings from Susan Fenimore Cooper to Annie Dillard, and in diverse print sources from family genealogical registers to seed catalogs, the four seasons appear and reappear as a theme in American culture.

In this richly illustrated book, Michael Kammen traces the appeal of the four seasons motif in American popular culture and fine arts from the seventeenth century to the present. Its symbolism has evolved through the years, Kammen explains, serving as a metaphor for the human life cycle or religious faith, expressing nostalgia for rural life, and sometimes praising seasonal beauty in the diverse American landscape as the most spectacular in the world. Kammen also highlights artists' and writers' shift in attention from the glories of seasonal peaks to the dynamics of seasonal transitions as American life continued to accelerate and change through the twentieth century.

Few symbols have been as pervasive, meaningful, and symptomatic in the human experience as the four seasons, and as Kammen shows, in its American context the annual cycle has been an abundant and abiding source of inspiration in the nation's cultural history.

About the Author

Michael Kammen (1936-2013) was the Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture at Cornell University. He was author or editor of more than twenty books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization and Robert Gwathmey: The Life and Art of a Passionate Observer.
For more information about Michael Kammen, visit the Author Page.


"This interesting multidisciplinary study casts a wide net over the use of seasonal motifs in American culture. . . . Provocative and useful."--Journal of American Studies

"This is history at its very best, open to every possible morsel of evidence, each one treated with deep respect for its intrinsic character and meaning."--Indiana Magazine of History

"An ambitious, impressive and convincingly organized book that is profusely illustrated. . . . Kammen considers the seasons . . . in a knowledgeable way that leaves the reader undaunted. . . . His book is written in a style that is considered, lively and free from academic jargon. . . . Handsome and absorbing, A Time to Every Purpose is considerably successful in its exploration, offering to readers the likelihood that they will never regard the calendar in the same way again."--Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A book as filled with wonder as the cycling of the seasons themselves."--Boston Globe

"Kammen is an entertaining and relentless guide. . . . [A Time to Every Purpose: The Four Seasons in American Culture] is full of information on obscure figures and should delight the curious pedant above all. From Thoreau and Bartram to Normal Rockwell and Woodie Guthrie, there is an abundance of fascinating material herein."--Virginia Quarterly Review

"As befits a volume on the four seasons, this is a feast of a book. Kammen's encyclopedic range of references to the seasonal motif in every imaginable form sent me down a hundred delightful rabbit trails of further investigation."--Books & Culture