American Places: A Writer's Pilgrimage to 15 of This Country's Most Visited and Cherished Sites

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9780060166380: American Places: A Writer's Pilgrimage to 15 of This Country's Most Visited and Cherished Sites

The author of On Writing Well and Writing to Learn recounts his journey to America's most cherished historic sites--including Mount Rushmore, Kitty Hawk, and Disneyland--discussing their significance to today's Americans. 15,000 first printing.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Zinsser (Spring Training, 1988, etc.), who last year edited They Went, a collection of essays about travel writing, now offers a lively though not profound travelogue on 15 of America's geographic icons. This ``reporter's book about the ideas that shaped America'' takes in some of our most treasured sites, emblematic of America's impulse toward independence (Lexington and Concord) and resolve during war and peace (Appomattox, Pearl Harbor); its emphasis on self-improvement (Chautauqua); small-town nostalgia (Hannibal and Abilene); civil rights (Montgomery); and natural beauty (Niagara Falls and Yellowstone Park). Zinsser employs the same method in each profile: He offers a brief background history of the place, while eliciting from custodians of each site--curators, park rangers, librarians, town historians, and the like--their impressions of why people are drawn so insistently to these secular shrines. The author freely admits to being ``history-illiterate'' for too long, so his account has all the vices and virtues of innocence. On the one hand, he often notices the fresh and unusual detail, such as a letter at Mount Vernon that reveals George Washington's obsessive attention to household matters, even while leading the Continental Army. On the other hand, Zinsser lamentably fails to note that among the freedoms fought for at the Alamo was the ``right'' of the Texans to own slaves. The author is most intriguing when he snaps out of his dewy-eyed wonder, as in noting that Disneyland offers ``no shocks of nonrecognition'' or in passing on the stories told by the sites' custodians (at Concord, we learn, visitor-interest in Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott is rising, while the stocks of Hawthorne and Emerson are plummeting). A little heavy on the reverence, but, still, a fascinating take on ``the search for memory'' and how certain places have come to symbolize deep American principles. -- Copyright 1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

This collection of inquisitive, hopeful, patriotic essays, many of them previously published in such journals as National Geographic Traveler , will have cynical readers putting their views of today's America on hold. Zinsser ( On Writing Well ), a WW II veteran who grew up during the era when Gutzon Borglum sculpted the heads of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore, journeys to 15 American landmarks to find out why they attract so many tourists. He learns that visitors to Yellowstone National Park are recreating the adventures they had with their parents, draws comparisons between Americans' "macho love of weapons and macho frontier past" at the Alamo, discovers in Disneyland that "Main Street circa 1900 is America's lost paradise." He also speaks with architect Maya Lin about her Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., and considers the "lost dignity of presidential conduct" while exploring Ike's hometown, Abilene, Tex. Attention to old-fashioned values marks these edifying, intriguing history lessons.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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