Books by Jonathan Raban

Jonathan Raban is the author of Soft City, Arabia, Foreign Land, Old Glory, For Love and Money, Hunting Mister Heartbreak, Bad Land, and Passage to Juneau; he has also edited The Oxford Book of the Sea. Raban has received the National Book Critics Circle

DRIVING HOME by Jonathan Raban
Released: Sept. 13, 2011

"Full of ideas that move through the language with the grace of a well-captained sailboat."
The acclaimed writer offers a collection of essays about America and Americana. Read full book review >
SURVEILLANCE by Jonathan Raban
Released: Jan. 30, 2007

"A coolly delivered portrait of the Wired Age, when paranoia rules and truth is at a premium."
When the going gets tough, the tough get nosy. And so, in this well-realized novel by veteran writer Raban (Passage to Juneau, 1999, etc.), does everyone else. Read full book review >
WAXWINGS by Jonathan Raban
Released: Sept. 30, 2003

"Sharper (and a lot faster) than The Bonfire of the Vanities, may well be one of the best accounts ever written of an American era."
British-born Raban (Passage to Juneau, 1999, etc.) sends a poison-pen letter to his adopted homeland in this witty account of America at the turn of the millennium. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1999

A rich, multilayered narrative of solitary travel through a vast and chilly landscape. Raban (Bad Land, 1996; Hunting Mister Heartbreak, 1991; etc.), a Londoner resident in Seattle, is one of the English-speaking world's great travelers and travel writers. Here he crafts a wonderfully literate account, full of thoughtful observation and self-deprecating humor, of a sailing trip up the Inside Passage from the Puget Sound to the Alaska Panhandle. He is not, he admits, a great mariner——I am afraid of the sea . . . I—m not a natural sailor, but a timid, weedy, cerebral type, never more out of my element than when I—m at sea——and the boat he bought for his voyage was chosen less for its sturdiness than for its built-in bookcases, which could house a fine library. Raban's journey is indeed bookish, full of observations culled from his readings. It's also set in parallel with other voyages, foremost among them that of the English sailor and explorer George Vancouver two centuries before. Along the way, Raban visits Native American villages, where he meets a Tsimshian man who presses his children to learn Japanese, Spanish, and computer science so that the Tsimshian people can take a place in the coming millennium; passengers on the ever-present cruise ships that ply the waters of the Inside Passage, the butts of countless Alaskan jokes and even undisguised scorn; and down-on-their-luck workers lured to the North by the promise of high wages but who never managed to punch the right ticket. For all the people Raban meets along his journey, however, his is a fundamentally lonely narrative, marked by sorrowful passages on the concurrent dissolution of his marriage and on the decline of the literary culture he so ably represents. Impeccably written and told, this will be irresistible to Raban's many admirers, as well as those who value a good story. Read full book review >
BAD LAND by Jonathan Raban
Released: Nov. 13, 1996

As seen in the punning title, travel writer Raban (Hunting Mister Heartbreak: A Discovery of America, 1991, etc.) adds a second, more sinister meaning to the legendary Montana-Dakota stretch of the Great Plains. Raban focuses on the town of Ismay, Mont., and its role in a seldom-discussed chapter of the modern American West. Ismay's settlers were lured by the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909, by misleading advertising by railroad companies, and by pseudoscientific claims about the benefits of dry-land farming. Before long, however, this inhospitable land had wrecked the hopes of these latter-day homesteaders. Instead of the American Eden they were promised, they encountered something more akin to the Egyptian plagues: subzero winter temperatures, dust, dying cattle, large grasshoppers, and above all, scant rainfall. Raban skillfully evokes the landscape's stark immensity, which defeated the attempts of photographers who tried to transform it into a romantic panorama. As settlers gradually deserted Ismay, they left behind signs of their failure, so that when Raban passed through, ``for every surviving ranch, I passed a dozen ruined houses.'' Yet Ismay, conceived by advertising, still could not resist making a bundle off a promotion, as seen in a hilarious recounting of its attempt to recast itself as a tourist trap by renaming itself Joe, Montana, after the quarterback (who is neither native son nor resident). Ultimately, Raban produces a startling revision of traditional Western myth: not the hopeful cowboys and farmers so often found in children's school primers, but solitaries, religious zealots, and even sociopaths. In Randy Weaver, Theodore Kaczynski, and Timothy McVeigh, Raban discovers spiritual descendants of the homesteaders in ``their resentment of government, their notion of property rights, their harping on self-sufficiency, and self-defence, [and] in their sense of enraged Scriptural entitlement.'' A powerful, grim new slant on those who took the way west—and of the terrible consequences when their dreams curdled and died. (First serial to the New Yorker) Read full book review >
Released: May 8, 1991

Can the US still produce ``some fantastic reversal of fortune, some miraculous transfiguration'' for those who migrate to its shores? In answering this question, graceful English travel writer Raban (For Love and Money, 1989; Coasting, 1987, etc.) finds cockeyed optimism to be unexpectedly resilient in today's seemingly inhospitable American soil. Department from Liverpool, Raban stayed for several months in each of four locations: a sublet Manhattan apartment, a cabin in the woods in small-town Guntersville, Alabama, an apartment in a former Seattle hotel, and a boat in Key West, where the living was easy and the restraints few. Half the enjoyment in following this journey consists of Raban's witty, visceral reactions to his new surroundings. He growls about Macy's switch from its old thrifty middle-class clientele to a more upscale, debt-ridden one; worries that he is drifting toward more instinctive, less rational thinking in the Calvinist-dominated South; and fantasizes about writing a novel about Seattle while brooding that it now has ``the dangerous luster of a promised city.'' Too jaundiced to overlook the instances of violence, greed, and indifference in the Reagan-Bush era, he is also swept along by ``the continuous motion of life in the United States, the striving and becoming.'' And the characters he meets along the way-a Liberian hoping for his own travel agency, a Korean owner of an auto repair shop, an old friend who's taken to shipping drugs in Key West-vividly illustrate the still-seductive allure of a new life in the New World. No Whitmanesque sentimentality here, but a jaunty, perceptive, and remarkably assured report on the American Dream today. Read full book review >