Read American Journeys by Don Watson Online


Australia's bestselling author returns with a superb book about his journeys around America - this is travel writing at its very best.Only in America - the most powerful democracy on earth, home to the best and worst of everything - are the most extreme contradictions possible. In a series of journeys acclaimed author Don Watson set out to explore the nation that has influAustralia's bestselling author returns with a superb book about his journeys around America - this is travel writing at its very best.Only in America - the most powerful democracy on earth, home to the best and worst of everything - are the most extreme contradictions possible. In a series of journeys acclaimed author Don Watson set out to explore the nation that has influenced him more than any other.Travelling by rail gave Watson a unique and seductive means of peering into the United States, a way to experience life with its citizens: long days with the American landscape and American towns and American history unfolding on the outside, while inside a tiny particle of the American people talked among themselves.Watson's experiences are profoundly affecting: he witnesses the terrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast; explores the savage history of the Deep South, the heartland of the Civil War; and journeys to the remarkable wilderness of Yellowstone National Park. Yet it is through the people he meets that Watson discovers the incomparable genius of America, its optimism, sophistication and riches - and also its darker side, its disavowal of failure and uncertainty.Beautifully written, with gentle power and sly humour, AMERICAN JOURNEYS investigates the meaning of the United States: its confidence, its religion, its heroes, its violence, and its material obsessions. The things that make America great are also its greatest flaws. ...

Title : American Journeys
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ISBN : 9781740513166
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 491 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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American Journeys Reviews

  • Mitchell
    2019-02-08 11:57

    America holds a fascinating sway for Australians - for foreigners in general, certainly, but more so for an English-speaking nation with little history and a feeble culture. I grew up watching the Simpsons, eating at McDonalds, reading Calvin and Hobbes, going to see Hollywood blockbusters and playing Grand Theft Auto. For me, names like "California" and "New York" are on par with "Narnia" and "Oz;" equally fantastic and unreachable.And yet there is a vehement anti-American streak running through Australian culture; perhaps a kneejerk reaction against our children being bred as quasi-Americans, or a way to compensate for our own inferiority complex, or simply the fact that most of the world, by and large, dislikes America. This creates a paradox, one which Australian journalist Don Watson tasked himself with exploring:On The United States of America my senses swing like a door with no latch. They are moved by fierce gusts and imperceptible zephyrs. Love and loathing come and go in about the same proportion. But then, one rages about one's own siblings from time to time, and one's own country: it is not rational, in the main. Yet there had been a time when anti-Americanism took on a gleam of reason. As earnest student radicals in the late 1960s, we saw the thread that joined the vicious white mobs of the South to the very foundations of the republic - because we learned that such founders of American democracy as Washington and Jefferson took slaves. We learned what we took to be the real truth about the Indian Wars, the Mexican Wars and the Monroe Doctrine, and it persuaded us that Vietnam was part of a pattern which, when you looked at it hard, revealed IMPERIALISM.But just as we were thinking it was in the "nature' of America to be brutal, racist and imperialistic, a paradox appeared. The Freedom Marchers had been American. Martin Luther King was American. Sidney Perelmen was American. Mark Twain was American. Portnoy was American. Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, William Appleman Williams, Herbert Marcuse and Robert Crumb were all American. Our jeans were American. The most articulate critics of America - the most articulate people on earth, and the most liberal - were American. The America of my most avid anti-American phase was the America of my first rational adult heroes. The paradox, greatly modified though it is, animates me still.America itself is a paradox. It is a country responsible for the lion's share of the great technological and scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century, yet a country where evolution is widely disbelieved and the vast majority of the population is religious. It is a country that, in spite of its Christian values, executes convicts by the truckload and craves a war every twenty years or so. It is a country full of people who call for "smaller government" while supporting the erosion of civil liberties. None of this is this a new phenomenon; the phrase "all men are born equal" was coined by slaveowners.It is on this paradox that Watson bases his book, part travelogue and part social commentary. His journey takes place in 2005 and 2006, beginning in Katrina-devastated New Orleans and spanning a very respectable chunk of the country, crossing back and forth almost as much as Jack Kerouac in "On The Road." There are several recurring themes - race relations, the plight of America's underclass, the pervasive influence of Christianity, the political polarity. Watson is a fine writer and an intelligent scholar, and while "American Journeys" can be tedious at times, one is certainly never short of food for thought.For a book supposedly about the Great American Paradox, however - which would mean both the good and the bad - "American Journeys" paints a very bleak picture. Black Americans continue to occupy a low socio-economic rung. The prison-industrial complex leaves penitentiaries overflowing with inmates. Violence seems ingrained in the history and the culture. There is no universal healthcare, the state values the rights of employers over employees, and the minimum wage is appallingly low - many people live day-to-day, dollar-to-dollar, teetering above the poverty line. The political sphere is rife with slander, pettiness, and unbelievable ignorance.Watson mentions only two arguments in favour of America. The first (and minor) one is the kindness and friendliness of its individual citizens, which I'll come back to in a moment. The second - a major theme which he bases his entire conclusion around - is American freedom.Freedom is such an old chestnut of American rhetoric that it does not impress outsiders as perhaps it should. The more the president speaks of it, the less meaning it registers... And yet, when one travels in America, the chestnut sheds at least some of its shell. You come to see that, to Americans, freedom means something that we incurable collectivists do not quite understand; and that they know freedom in ways that we do not. Freedom is the country's sacred state. Freedom is what must be protected. All over, they will tell you what is wrong with America, but freedom is the one thing they think right. And whatever the insults to my social democratic senses, that is what I find irresistable about the place - the almost guilty, adolescent feeling that in this place a person can do what he wants. He can grow absurdly rich; he can hunt a mountain lion; he can harbour the most fantastic ideas; he can shoot someone. He can commune with God and nature, buy anything he wants, pay anyone for any service and at any fee. He can be a social outcast or even a prisoner and yet, being American, believe that he is free.If I am American, I am as free as a person can be. If I am free, I can do - or dream of doing - all the things it is in my nature to do or to dream; no other place on Earth need interest me. So long as I am guaranteed this freedom, I will forgive the things my country does that are not in my nature or my dreams. I will be "spared all the care of thinking about them." This is, of course, unless my country or some other place threatens freedom.This comes completely out of the left field in the afterword, as though Watson suddenly realised he'd written a comprehensive tome detailing every one of America's flaws and felt compelled to balance it out somehow. It feels quite hollow when he has been told numerous times throughout the book, by taxi drivers and barmen and retirees and countless others, that America is a unique stronghold of freedom - and which he counters every time with the plain and simple fact that dozens of other countries are equally free. More free, perhaps, given the current American penchant for trading in civil liberties for security.The lasting impression I got from the book (one that I mostly already held) was that America is, among Western countries, an extremely dysfunctional nation. A fascinating place, yes, when held at arm's length and viewed through the lens of movies and video games, and a place I wish to visit. But not a place where I would like to permanently live, or raise a family. Not a healthy society.I probably shouldn't cast judgement on a country I've never been to, only experienced (a lot, mind you) through popular culture. But I'll do it anyway. I think that, under my personal definition of "great," America is far from being the greatest nation on earth. I think it is nonetheless the most interesting nation on Earth, by a long shot. I think it's important to separate people from their governments; I've met many Americans in my time, and found, as Watson did, that they're quite friendly and likeable. I have nothing but disdain for Australians (invariably, Australians who've never actually met an American) who accuse American citizens of being arrogant and rude and stupid - without a shred of self-awareness. It's one thing to criticise the sweeping history of the American nation/government's brutality; quite another thing to generalise 300 million people.I think that while America has many flaws, there are plenty of great things about it... but that none of those great things are absent in the other nations of the Western world.I think that while these other Western nations may not seem to have as many severe flaws as America does, that may just be because we are smaller and quieter and less populous. I think that Australia or Europe or Canada would be equally liable to sabre-rattling and imperialism, were any one of us the most powerful nation in the world.I think that, while my beliefs about America may be naive or uninformed, at least I'm fucking consistent and lucid with them, unlike Don Watson.Overall, "American Journeys" makes a lot of interesting arguments about aspects of America, but ultimately fails to make any kind of cohesive statement on the country as a whole, other than the bizarrely uncharacteristic afterword that suggests Watson felt a book about America would be incomplete without a big stirring speech about trademarked American Freedom - a myth he has previously debunked. (A myth that is self-evidently debunked, for that matter.)That's okay, I suppose. America has been the defining cultural, political and economic juggernaut all over the world for nearly a century, and will remain so in the English-speaking world for a long time to come. You can't wrap your head around it by taking a few train rides and writing a book, let alone by reading that book from your distant home in suburban Perth. I doubt I'll ever understand a place as powerful, dynamic, intense and loud as America, but if my life goes to plan I'll be arriving there sometime next year, and I'll see things for myself.

  • Helen King
    2019-02-22 10:30

    An expansive look at the United States of America, through the eyes of Don Watson who has such a way with words, and real insight into the places he is exploring. Although written before Barack Obama was even a serious contender for the presidency, there is still so much to think about as a result of Watson's observations of American life as viewed through his train journeys (largely) and car trips, criss crossing the States, visiting friends and interviewing people on the way (often ones he meets on his travels), and his reflections. I found myself highlighting huge slabs, because, although it isn't a short book, there is little wasted text. There was a lot to take in (I guess, after all, the U.S. is a big place), and Watson covers so much (geographically but also in terms of topics) : the descriptions of different cities, towns, and the land between (often the most stunning), the musings on what drives Americans, the reasons behind particular political and social views, the historical context, the role of religion, the views on war and America's place in the world, (and I could keep going). So expansive, and so smoothly written that it is really hard to capture it all. Interesting to look at this, in the context of the run up to the 2016 elections - how much has changed during that time, and how much remains the same? Still thinking about it.

  • Stephanie
    2019-02-11 10:40

    Don Watson portrays the US as a mostly homogenous, gun-toting, right wing truck stop/fast food laden wasteland. But at the same time, he seems enthralled by his visions of the backwaters and dwindling small towns of red state America. I lived in the States for the first 30 years of my life, and I never once listened to Christian radio, I never owned a gun, I had Jewish and Muslim friends, black and Latino friends - yet I didn't live in New York or California. There's a lot more to the country than the tired pastiche of stereotypes and romanticised depictions of small town decline Watson is so fond of. The book presents a sadly distorted, strangely nostalgic view of America. There's little in the way of narrative - it's mostly Watson writing down what he sees and hears as he does road/rail trips across the country. He seems to choose mostly to listen to religious radio programs, and recount what's written on various church signs - riveting stuff. Snore. Plus it's peppered with quotes from lots of random literary sources, some relevant (such as a couple of Mark Twain quotes), but most just seem thrown in to let the world know that Don Watson has read books too!The Sydney Morning Herald ran an excellent review that I can recommend to anyone with this book on their 'to-read' list (easily found through a Google search).

  • Jim Rimmer
    2019-01-29 13:54

    I've had a signed copy sitting on my crowded bookshelf for ages, waiting for the right time to read it. Initially released in the lead up to the historic 2008 US election I could think of no better moment than the direct lead up to the 2012 election.Being a big fan of Watson's pithy turn of phrase I also greatly admire his ability to capture the somnambulism so prevalent within contemporary western culture. His Recollections of a Bleeding Heart (Knopf, 2002) is at the pinnacle of contemporary political narrative in Australia. Though of broader focus American Journeys makes a similarly powerful contribution to social discourse in Australia, holding a magnifying glass up to a cultural cousin too many leaders and commentators in this country wish to blindly emulate.Variously touching, confounding and humorous this book is a values laden travelogue through the, often neglected, veins and arteries of a geo-political giant. I found it an entertaining and informative read but also feel strangely compelled to add that I've never visited the US.American Journeys gave me hope that country can continue to move forward.

  • Marshallw
    2019-02-13 10:42

    Would never travel on Amtrak.

  • Jonathan Bradley
    2019-01-23 13:29

    Look, I enjoyed Watson's observations, but they're weakened by his unspoken presumption that being a white Australian man in his fifties makes him a neutral observer of his subject, rather than a subjective visitor with his own cultural shibboleths and idiosyncrasies. His narrative is told in the first person, but it is decidedly not the View From Nowhere he presents it to be. There are strangenesses and obscenities in American life, but if one is determined to find them by comparing their deviation to the experience of growing up in Australia during the '50s and '60s, one should at least interrogate the blind spots arising from that choice. (Michael Gawenda's American Notebook is an example of a text that approaches more honestly this dilemma of the author–tourist.)He also doesn't recognize that when he thinks he is making observations about the enduring quality of America, what he is actually referring to are specifics of the Bush 43 political landscape. For a book published in 2008 and describing events of 2005 and 2006, it provides no hint of the massive leftward lurch the nation would take in the midterm elections and in the following presidential contest. (Barack Obama is mentioned once.) This is a category error many of us make when looking at America: we go searching for what is opposite about the place, supposing that therein we will discover what makes it different, not realizing that its most familiar spaces are just as alien. American liberals and cosmopolitans are as alien from Australia as are its conservatives and hayseed curios. Something a 2017 reader will notice is just how much conservatism has changed in America since the middle years of the Bush presidency. This predates the contemporary moments' explicit irruptions of white racial resentment and even its earlier coded instance, when it manifested in the crypto-libertarian Tea Party. At the time of Watson's travels, Christian conservatism was still ascendant and felt not just powerful but sincere. Theories of intelligent design and a god that had literally blessed the president and his supporters felt like powerful and dangerous intrusions on civil society. Today the churches are a spent force: influential not through theological innovation but only because that's where Republican voters tend to gather. The evangelicals backed a divorced, habitual sexual abuser to win the White House and hope a judge who assaults underage girls will represent Alabama in the Senate. Those days of Terri Schiavo and Republican piety recede into mist.

  • SP
    2019-02-12 14:54

    I love reading books about people travelling through the USA, because the USA is such a vast land and home to a lot of diversity. Don Watson's American Journeys is an OK read, but falls into the trap that some writers do when they talk about America and (in particular) Americans - prejudice, condescension and ranting. The USA is such a huge 'target', being the one superpower, the 'world police', the biggest economy, etc.This is a shame because Don Watson's writing is brilliant and rescued this book from flying onto my 'abandoned' bookshelf. When he is not making ludicrous, sweeping generalisations about Americans, his writing is often flowing and poetic. Some of his passages and meanders were a pleasure to read. Unfortunately this does make the rants stand out even more.Having been to the USA twice now I can assure you that the evangelical, chest-thumping, saber-rattling, slack-jawed ogres that Don Watson pillories every two or three pages in his book are few and far between, and for every one of them in the country there is another who is polite, friendly and entertaining - just like in any country around the world. Poverty in the USA is bad, and American capitalism has a hard edge for certain, but this does not make Americans a race of bible-bashing idiots who think they've been abducted by aliens. The vast, vast majority of Americans you will meet are - like anyone else you'll ever meet - mostly just ordinary people who are doing their best to get by and lead a good life.I can strongly recommend some of Watson's other books - in particular Weasel Words - and I love his writing and style, but this book rang quite hollow for me. It is aimed largely at people (like the author) who look down their noses at Americans (they will probably love the ego boost they'll get from reading it), with only the occasional admission that not all Americans fit the popular stereotype/s.

  • Skyring
    2019-02-01 08:36

    This book opens as fireworks explode and a band plays in an American city. Don Watson is there, making some comments about America with an Australian's eye for the details that might escape the natives. Such as the fact that the crowd is entirely white - the others in the population are busy elsewhere. Save for a man picking up the refuse after the fireworks had ended and the band packed up.This was my second reading of the book. Well, the first where I sat down and read it cover to cover - the previous occasion was on December when I drove the awesome (and paraplegic) world traveller Ken Haley down to Melbourne, and he read it to me as we cruised down the Hume Freeway. Some sections of this copy have Ken's proofreading marks - he has an eagle eye for detail!This time, I read the location - the grassy field in front of the Kansas City Amtrak station - and I realised that this was one place in the world where I'd been. and Ken had not. Ken has climbed the leaning tower of Pisa on his buttocks, gazed out on antelopes in Namibia, and taken a ferry to the Faeroes, but he's a virgin in KC.It was last year on Anzac Day (or dawn in Auckland anyway, it was the previous day in America) and Discoverylover and I found ourselves at the Kansas City World War One memorial. A grand affair, it had columns and ramparts and pools and plaques. And a grassy slope stretching down to the railway station. We browsed through the museum gift shop, not having time to look at the museum itself, and bought a few trinkets. The big Kansas City mug lost its handle in transit and new holds the family toothbrushes, so I am reminded of the day on a daily basis.I like KC. And Des Moines where we spent that night, wrangling over the pronunciation until we sought a local who could tell us whether it was pronounced in the French manner or not. "What's the name of this place?" we asked and she replied, slowly saying, "Buuuuurrr gerrrrr Kingggggg."And San Francisco and Santa Monica where Route 66 ends and Chicago where it begins, and I even got caught up in the same anti-choice rally through Washington DC that Watson mentions. Same massive throng of people, different year. But they all seemed to know each other. It was a continuing celebration, and if they ever achieve their aim, they will be disappointed to miss their annual get-together.There are many places and things in America to love. The Mojave. The inspiring words of Lincoln and Jefferson, who founded the world's first modern democracy in a time when every other nation had a monarch. Jefferson founded it, Lincoln ensured that it endured. The museums on the Mall. The manners, the food, the sense of history, the mighty highways.And there are the other things. The homeless people sleeping in the snow. The huge gap between rich and poor. The immense machinery devoted to keeping people locked up. The ranting of fundamentalist preachers. The lack of any safety net to help people when they get into trouble. The cheerful corruption as the legislatures draw and redraw the electoral boundaries and refine the suffrage laws to diminish those who might vote against them.We visited New Orleans, a year or two after the cyclone, and got a hug from the lovely black lady at "A Diner Named Desire" on Bourbon Street. The food, the fun, the atmosphere there was exhilarating. The next day, we headed east, past a mighty wasteland of undead - or undrowned - suburbs.Don Watson looks at America with a cynical eye. He takes a few words, a sign, a blast on the radio, mingles them with the passing landscape, and travels through modern America. I loved Ken for reading this book, and I loved Don for writing it. He says things that need to be said. He says them in a way that is lyrical, pointed, entertaining and insightful. He looks at the land with a kindness that escapes Bill Bryson, but he doesn't hold back.It's odd, but the Americans I've met have all been the most loving and loveable people. I wonder how on earth these gentle creatures ever managed to set up a state where so many are slaves in all but name. A mother is jailed for falsifying her address so that her child may attend a decent school. A teenager is sent away for years in prison for some trivial possession of marijuana - and is then denied the vote when he is released after his best years are gone in pointless boredom and senseless violence.America, Land of the Free?This book is the companion to all the guidebooks that describe Disneyland or Fall in Vermont. It is necessary reading for the tourist who wants to take it all in, not just the scenery.

  • Stephen O'Sullivan
    2019-02-15 13:52

    This book is part reflection, part travelogue, part history, and charts the writer's varied and at times conflicting attitudes to the United States of America. Watson writes beautifully, and I found myself re-reading passages often for the sheer beauty of them. Reading history and as commentary, it is so welcome to also find literary art.Many outside the States, and no doubt some within, are deeply ambivalent (in its true sense, as simultaneous and opposing feelings) toward the U.S. and Watson in large part frames his book around this theme. In doing so he investigates and contextualises the United States' history of bigotry, racism, foreign aggression, and for most of the rest of the Western World, baffling lack of care and humanity for their fellow people displayed in the lack of universal health care and other trimmings of enlightened societies. Most of all, he repeatedly touches on the role of religion, particularly radical or fundamental evangelical Christianity, touching on the inherent contradictions in many of the socially intolerant public positions of these faiths. Underlying it all though is a sense of wonder and admiration for a culture and a nation that at its best stands for the principle of democratic rights and of freedom, as well as the vast and beautiful, changing landscape of the States.I too have wrestled with these conflicting feelings toward America. As an Australian (and a social democrat / liberal), it is difficult not to sympathise with Don Watson's perspective in American Journeys. Nevertheless, there were times I found his articulation of the struggling tendencies of his affections became repetitive.This book is at its best when detailing the conversations or happenings in his journey and seamlessly contextualising these within history and world events; or while describing the grandeur of the States. At its worst it occasionally all but fell to ranting. Thankfully, these moments are rare, and even the rants are rendered in beautiful prose.

  • Andrew
    2019-02-17 08:39

    Reading travel narratives is often a powerful way to experience an unfamiliar place or to learn about people and cultures in remote areas. But they can also be vehicles for self-reflection, allowing us to see ourselves through the eyes of an outside traveler in our midst. For an American reader, this book serves the second role. The author, an Australian, traveled widely by train and car around the United States during the second half of the previous decade, and this volume provides his observations and impressions of America as it wages its long “War on Terror.”With its heavy emphasis on the many negative aspects of American society and culture, including racism, poverty and provincialism, this book is was somewhat uncomfortable read for this American. It is always difficult to acknowledge our own failings, and often it takes an outsider to shed light on them. Watson also explores the impacts of religion (especially fundamentalist religion) on America, as well as the divisive nature of the current political conflicts. These observations are helpful in showing Americans how we are seen from the outside, which in allows us to understand some of the criticism that is directed at our country.While Watson’s observations largely seem valid, his almost complete focus on the negative observations does wear on the reader. It is true that America is far from a perfect society, but there are still many things here to celebrate, and while he does mention some of them from time to time, this book feels like it is overwhelming focused elsewhere. This does not make for a cheery read, and leaves the reader wondering what solutions might exist. And because his observations are filtered through his own views, many American who hold different values are likely to find some of his positions here at least slightly offensive. But for a reader with an open mind, this does present an opportunity to explore the problems that face our country, as they are viewed by a visitor.

  • Carly
    2019-01-24 12:41

    I should say up front that I am an Australian who has not visited the US at the time of writing so my comments on this book are just that, my take on the reading experience, not on the accuracy of the book (as a friendly aside, can anyone else really claim Watson's personal experience is innaccurate? They can and will have differing views, of course.)Watson writes lyrically; his prose is full of unexpected connections and gentle humour. The US emerges as a vast, complex, contradictory, inspiring and disturbing place. Watson deliberately avoids tourist centres and much of the book focuses on small, out-of-the-way towns on the Amtrak rail line and adjacent to the highways that zig zag the nation. I found this hugely engaging and felt I was privy to a glipmse 'behind the scenes'. Notions of freedom and faith, and what they mean to Americans, are threads in the delightfully rambling narrative. The conclusion is very much that these ideas have particular resonance and meaning to Americans that differ from other Western democracies. American belief in personal freedoms, and a corresponding distrust of anything that suggests socialism, bring the country both a shockingly low minimum wage (from my perspective) and an enviable fearlessness and optimism. A beautiful, unhurried, rewarding read.

  • Vicky Pinpin-Feinstein
    2019-01-25 12:56

    It is always to read about America from someone who is not American and especially more interesting when one reads it when one is living overseas. I read this book while living in Sydney. The blurb in the back of the book says: "More than a century and a half after Alexis de Tocqueville wrote these words ('Human societies, like individuals amount to something only in liberty.') acclaimed author [Australian] Don Watson explores the citadel of liberty.... Ha, I thought, anyone from another country who writes this about the U.S.of A. ought to be read. Interesting too that the Australians, there were other non-Americans after de Tocqueville who have written about this country and so it seems the Australians were the only ones who thought of writing about America the way de Tocqueville did. At any rate, Watson does the job well writing about his American journeys. His observations are keen, his writing is skillful, although many times as I was reading I could not help but get the feeling that Watson has this sort of love-hate, contradictory feelings about America, not unlike some of the Australians I met when I live there. And sometimes, this gets in the way of more nuanced impressions I would have liked about a book of this subject.

  • Jo Case
    2019-02-09 10:35

    American Journeys is a rare book about that country that the whole world seems to be obsessed with...whether we love it or hate it. Why? While Don Watson is not exactly impartial, he does bring to the subject a fairly even emotional balance, describing it as the site of his “first adult heroes” as well as the subject of a “rabid anti-American phase”.Watson spent many months criss-crossing the continent, mostly by train, recording what he observed. A wealth of experience is reflected within: riding a van through disaster-stricken New Orleans with a volunteer worker doling out crackers and bottled water; visiting the home of Thomas Jefferson in Virginia; smoking cigars with a former Clinton apparatchik in Washington DC; eating cannoli and talking rodeos in El Paso, Texas.In perfect prose, Watson captures what it feels like to live in contemporary America: the smells, the sounds, the shared beliefs and points of contention, and the everyday barriers to the good life. It’s a nation dominated by its founding tenets - democracy and religion – and the many paradoxes contained within both systems of belief.This review was first published in The Big Issue in 2008.

  • Eva
    2019-02-13 14:53

    I really enjoyed this book. It is more of a political commentary than a travel book, but I found it interesting. It was written about Watson's trip through the US in 2005 and 2006 by rail and road. He makes a lot of references to George Bush and the soon to be end of his presidency. This I found an interesting comparison as we are now coming to the end of Obama's term in office. Watson recounts a bit of the history of each city and town he goes through and some of their famous inhabitants. He covers a lot of topics including the effects of hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, America's obsession with religion, racial prejudice, corruption and class inequality. For all the negative aspects of the US the natural beauty of its Great Plains, magnificent mountain ranges and amazing cities make it a place that draws you back. And as Watson says, you see a generosity and an amiable side to everyday Americans that is admirable.

  • Lexi
    2019-01-31 13:38

    I read this while visiting Australia from the US. Guess I was missing my adopted home. It was really only ok (two stars feels little harsh, but oh well). The blurb's comparison to Tocqueville by some excited reviewer is outrageous. Watson largely maintains a tone of jaded cynicism about US cultural politics and excoriates some easy targets (yes, gun advocates and religious fanatics are wacky; how terrible was the response to Katrina??). But he also clearly thought HR Clinton had the 2008 election sown up, making only one passing reference to the "presidential hopeful" Barack Obama (the scare quotes are his). Go for his earlier book "Death Sentence: The Demise of Public Language", was fantastic - really worth reading.

  • Paul
    2019-02-02 12:50

    I love Don Watson's writing style and that's what drew me to this (now slightly dated) 2008 book. I can imagine many US readers will be pretty upset by what he says, as he calls it as he sees it. But he also points out the immense good in the people he meets. I was surprised to hear how badly the Amtrak system has been left to deteriorate, and a bit sad to hear of small town decay, but I see that in our own country too. I loved the chapters on his road travel through the American Bible Belt.I have visited the US 4 times since this was written and I confess I have not been to many of the places he travelled to - but now I want to!

  • Susan
    2019-02-06 09:49

    Don Watson's writing style is lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his travels around the USA and his observations on all that is great and terrible about the country and its people. The humour is very subtle and empathetic. I loved the section about the 'Intelligent Design' movement vs. the creationists vs. Darwinism. It's a complex story however and doesn't really provide many answers. I learnt a lot but also I feel I missed quite a bit due to my limited knowledge of American history. Not that I feel too bad about that - many Americans don't know where Australia is :-)

  • Matthew
    2019-01-28 12:31

    Former speechwriter for Paul Keating travels the post-Katrina, pre-Obama U.S. by rail and road. Gives an outsider's perspective of Amercian life, mostly from the margins - the parts the American Dream hasn't quite got to yet. Despite widespread evidence of decline, Watson sensitively documents the American people's generosity, optimism and their endless capacity for renewal and reinvention. He wonders if it will be enough to pull the U.S. through the myriad challenges ahead. De Tocqueville for the age of Wal-Mart and the exurbs.

  • Stephanie
    2019-02-03 12:56

    Watson tells all about the US. He is preaching to choir where I am concerned, you want your country to be the best, but sadly we have fallen way below the mark. The last several years have cost us in more ways then we can imagine. I am not surprised that this is not available in the US. I wish it was so more Americans could read it maybe if some of our representatives had a clue we would be looking at health care in a different light.

  • Jane
    2019-02-06 12:30

    I love travelling Amtrak & only late once, limped into Chicago after the train hit a car.I'm not sure what I think of this book. I probably view the US in a similar way but I'm not sure if that is because I am Australian or it is an accurate depiction.It probably accurately depicts our confusion with what the US represents to us.

  • Pam
    2019-02-05 09:45

    Fascinating account of a number of trips Don Watson did across America by car and by rail. I found his encounters with the country and people produce confusion and conflict - why is there such religious fervour, why do so many people own guns, why do the people still act out their lives like they are surviving the Alamo? Interesting read but worrisome.

  • Cheyenne Blue
    2019-02-05 07:46

    An interesting, but not outstanding, travelogue through the States from an outsider's perspective (Watson is an Aussie). There's a lot of focus on the poverty and insanity, which does tend to leap out at many non-Americans, and while I share many of his views I'd have liked to read about more of the good things too.

  • Alex
    2019-02-13 11:51

    The best travel writing I have ever read. In fact, the year before last I did a very similar thing travelling to many of the towns in America that Don went to. A big fan of Amtrak as a result :) He is one of the most perceptive, intelligent writers I have read.

  • Georgina
    2019-02-08 14:50

    Finally finished! It took me a while reading a chapter here and there between novels, but it was a wonderful book. I'd highly recommend it to any Americans interested in reading an outsider's well balanced look at their country.

  • Paul
    2019-02-09 15:45

    Travelogue and philosophical meandering through 'middle' America on the much underused American rail system. Written shortly after Hurricane Katrina this books gives an Australian (similar in so many ways but so completely different) perspective on American ideas and values.

  • Matthew Hickey
    2019-01-23 08:41

    Read this while undertaking my own American journey. Simultaneously loved it, because it's an engaging read, but loathed it because it served as such a stark reminder of how limited my own writing talent is compared with that of someone in whom it abounds!

  • Gretel
    2019-02-19 09:30

    A very good read :)thought provoking

  • Sam Granleese
    2019-02-19 14:35

    Very perceptive writing and observations of a pre-Obama America. I read this while traveling around New York and Washington DC.

  • Claire Noonan
    2019-02-16 13:41

    Well written but rambling. I couldn't stay focused.

  • Jane
    2019-01-25 15:57

    Watson's travels throughout America, mostly by train in the wake of Katrina, are beautifully captured.