See his autobiography, Three Worlds (1936).
Born in Hope, Vermilion County, Illinois, Van Doren was the son of a country doctor and was raised on the family farm. He earned a bachelor of arts from the University of Illinois in 1907 and a doctorate from Columbia University in 1911 and continued to teach there until 1930. He was a world federalist and once said, "It is obvious that no difficulty in the way of world government can match the danger of a world without it"
Van Doren's study The American Novel, published in 1921, is generally credited with helping to re-establish Herman Melville's critical status as first-rate literary master.
Van Doren died in Torrington, Connecticut.
A residence hall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is named after Carl Clinton Van Doren.