Heat Moon's readers owe a debt of gratitude to his wife (for separating from him) and to the unnamed college where he taught English (for firing him): had it not been for those painful jolts he would never have climbed into his Econoline van and driven 12,000 miles down the back roads of America--and never have recorded it all in this big, richly detailed book. Starting out in Columbia, Missouri, Heat Moon drove east to North Carolina, southwest to Louisiana, northwest to Oregon, east to New England, south to Chesapeake Bay, and west back to Missouri--piloting his way into tiny, obscure places like Dimebox, Texas, Hachita, New Mexico, and Melvin Village, New Hampshire; talking to strangers, and taking their picture (23 eloquent black-and-white photos are included); looking for things hand-made, home-cooked, wrinkled, and original. Shades of Charles Kuralt and Calvin Trillin--plus. As a mixed-blood, part white and part Osage (or so it seems--he's very sparing with personal information), Heat Moon writes from the perspective of ""a contaminated man who will be trusted by neither red nor white."" His Indian mind feels an especially violent antipathy to the wasteland of ecocidal capitalism, but his white mind knows how tenuous his red roots are. So, with his private life a shambles, he goes off, leaving cities and interstate highways behind, searching for pieces of an authentic world. And he finds them--in Cajun restaurants and Western saloons, a fishing boat in Maine and a Trappist monastery in Georgia; in a Hopi medical student in Utah and a splendidly crazy Christian missionary-hitchhiker in Montana. Heat Moon lets them speak for themselves--he's got a fine ear for earthy, natural talk. His travel journal might be faulted for lacking a well-defined structure and a strong authorial voice, but their absence is central to Heat Moon's tentative, self-effacing character. An immensely appealing performance.