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In law, the late 19th century is often called the Age of Contract; in literature, the Age of Realism. Brook Thomas brings contract and realism together to offer insights into both areas while exploring the social and cultural crises that accompanied America's transition from industrial capitalism to the corporate capitalism of the 20th century. Moving from legal analysis to social history to recontextualized literary critique, Thomas shows how writers like Twain, James, Howells, Chopin and Chesnutt took up contract as a model, formally and thematically, evoking its possibilities and dramatizing its failures.