A smooth collection of previously published articles on late–20th-century politics and places, by the observant author of, most recently, Just Do It: The Nike Spirit in the Corporate World (1994).
The 11 pieces here are divided simply into two geographic sections: “Other Parts” and “America”—divisions suitable to Katz's initial focus on place. The articles themselves offer much more, notably Katz's ability to immerse himself in the world he reports on and his ability to synopsize history central to his story. In “The Hans Brinker Complex,” for instance, he becomes the first American skater attempting a renowned 124-mile ice race in Holland, in order to capture its difficulty and seriousness for the Dutch. In the title essay, “Dispatch from the Valley of the Fallen,” he recounts the enduring importance of the Spanish Civil War and the history of the Basques, and how they contribute to the meaning of Franco’s death. Despite these and other grand journal or magazine topics, deep emotional involvement is rare here. The volume does offer, however, certain academic pleasures. Students of literary journalism may take interest in how these pieces show the evolution of the genre, particularly in how the narrator's presence in the works changes over the decades. As the narrator-as-character becomes a more common construct, Katz becomes a more comfortable presence, and in the 1992 article on Cajun hand fishing, “The Master Grappler,” he even weaves in a relevant experience of his young daughter. Also noteworthy is the way an article's tone will change to fit the publication—knowing for Esquire, clipped for Rolling Stone, inviting for Outside.
Engaging, if not always compelling, and best seen as a journalist's time capsule, not as an ultimate work. Enjoy it for Katz's ability to convey adventure, and for his prescient takes on the 1970s and ’80s—like his bright view of the young Arkansas governor from a town called Hope.