Journey to America's west in search of a nation that may no longer exist. The best travel writing not only describes a place...


AN EMPIRE WILDERNESS: Travels into America's Future

Journey to America's west in search of a nation that may no longer exist. The best travel writing not only describes a place but also explains it. In a series of well-crafted books (The Ends of the Earth, 1996, etc.), Atlantic Monthly contributing editor Kaplan has performed these dual tasks with eloquence and insight. Here he turns his attention to his own country and finds a troubling present and a discomfiting future. America is literally coming apart at the seams, and in the west Kaplan most clearly finds evidence of this. As America's geographical boundaries no longer shield it from the international economy, the middle-class ideal of America is becoming the reality of a two-class system: the technologically skilled haves and the unskilled have-nots. The skilled leave the cities, retreating further and further into the west's open spaces, to suburban oases of gated communities and private police. In a world economy, such people have more in common with their counterparts around the world than with the have-nots they've left behind amid urban decay. Meanwhile, the core ideological values of America, though the author remains vague as to what these are, are becoming displaced, as he writes, ""by the cultural patterns"" of Old World societies, such as hierarchy and paternalism, which are being imported by immigrants. Other processes are also at work. Canada and the northwest, Mexico and the southwest threaten to become autonomous economic and social entities. ""How much longer,"" Kaplan wonders, ""will the patriotic marches of John Philip Sousa move America's inhabitants?"" Kaplan captures well the postmodern uneasiness adrift in America, but the above quote seems presumptive of what America once was. He has, in other words, already defined what America should be before he begins his journey. But if his America is not there, does that mean America is gone for everyone? A flawed work, to be sure, alarmist and overwrought at times. A clarity of vision remains, however, that demands our attention.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0679776877

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998

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