An uninspiring grab bag of a journey down the storied highway.
Route 66 is crumbling in spots, even gone to grass and dirt across decommissioned stretches along its path. But it lives on, largely because of Bobby Troup’s musical anthem, given in incomplete form to Nat King Cole and forged in his hands into a pop hit. The best part of Antonson’s (To Timbuktu for a Haircut: A Journey Through West Africa, 2008, etc.) grinding biography is his look at Troup’s song; given the importance of Albuquerque, N.M., as a waypoint along the route, he wonders why it isn’t celebrated in the song. The author travels the length of the highway, stuffing his narrative with as many anecdotes and oddments as he can cram in, with the result that the book has a tight-as-a-tick bloat to it. Some of them do useful work; Antonson does a good job, for instance, of considering the contributions of documentary photographer Dorothea Lange to the making of the Route 66 image in the American mind. But others are there just to be there, it seems, from the painfully obvious (“ ‘Joliet’ Jake Blues, a character portrayed in the 1980 Blues Brothers movie by actor John Belushi, drew his nickname from this town”) to the painfully overstretched (of Mickey Mantle: “many people stopped caring—not unlike the highway he called home”). A moment of confused dialogue concerning whether the author of the line “Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” was Jackson Browne or Savoy Brown is emblematic—the answer is easy to look up, utterly unimportant and well-known to anyone who cares about such things.
A snooze. There’s no ill intent here, but so important a road deserves a better book.