In Ragged Dick, Horatio Alger’s most successful book, Alger codified the basic formula he would follow in nearly a hundred subsequent novels for boys: a young hero, inexperienced in the temptations of the city but morally armed to resist them, is unexpectedly forced to earn a livelihood. The hero’s exemplary struggle—to retain his virtue, to clear his name of accusations, and to gain economic independence—was the basis of the Alger plot. Hugely popular at the turn of the twentieth century, Alger’s works have at different times been framed as a model for the “American dream” and as dangerously exciting sensationalism for young readers; Gary Scharnhorst’s new introduction separates the myth of Alger as “success ideologue” from the more complex messages conveyed in his work.
Ragged Dick is paired in this edition with Risen from the Ranks, another coming-of-age story of a young man achieving respectability. Historical appendices include extensive contemporary reviews, material on the “success myth” associated with Alger, and parodies of Alger’s work.
“This new publication of Ragged Dick and Risen from the Ranks offers not only an annotated edition of two popular Alger novels, but also presents a detailed study of the author and his American idea of success. Gary Scharnhorst has written widely on Horatio Alger, Jr., and in his introductory essay he lucidly discusses the author’s life, his ‘fiction formula,’ and his literary reputation. Both the casual reader and the historical scholar will appreciate Scharnhorst’s appendices, which include primary materials (such as contemporary book reviews) and other significant documents. The works of Horatio Alger, Jr. have been reprinted numerous times by modern publishers, but no edition comes even close to providing the wealth of resources available in Professor Scharnhorst’s fine book.” — Jack Bales, University of Mary Washington Library
“What a nice way to reintroduce readers to the novels of Horatio Alger Jr., who began writing for young people just over 150 years ago. Scharnhorst pairs the author’s most famous story of a New York bootblack with another popular story involving a country boy who models his life on Benjamin Franklin and succeeds without going to the city. Scharnhorst’s fine introduction examines the similarities, differences, and dissonances between the stories and demonstrates ways in which the meaning of Alger’s moral tales morphed in successive generations until the author became ‘a victim of mistaken identity.’ Supplemental materials acquaint readers with the author’s own reflections, views about children and success, and contemporary reception—from ads to reviews to parodies.” —Carol Nackenoff, Richter Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College