Chasing the Red, White, and Blue: A Journey in Tocqueville's Footsteps Through Contemporary America

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9780312261542: Chasing the Red, White, and Blue: A Journey in Tocqueville's Footsteps Through Contemporary America

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville his journey to America, traveling from New York to the frontier city of Flint, Michigan, down the Ohio River Valley and into Mississippi, then turning east through the Old South and concluding in Washington, D.C. His journey spawned the classic Democracy in America, the book that defined "equality of opportunity" as the wellspring national character.

At the end of the twentieth century, journalist David Cohen made that same journey, with one new destination—the frontier of Silicon Valley in California. Chasing the Red, White, and Blue is his account: a thought-provoking inquiry into the lives of Americans today. Talking with people at every level of society—from Manhattan real estate brokers and Washington lobbyists to supermarket clerks and illegal aliens—Cohen finds equality elusive and the poor increasingly adrift from American society. But he also finds hope alive in the most unexpected of places.

Just as Democracy in America took the measure of our young republic, Chasing the Red, White, and Blue portrays a much-changed America on the cusp of a new millennium: still united by our passion for democracy, yet divided by our prejudices.

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Review:

Do the observations on American society that Alexis de Tocqueville made during his famous 1831 tour of the country (specifically that the United States was possessed of a unique "equality of opportunity") still hold true? British journalist David Cohen attempts to answer that question by retracing the Frenchman's route.

Cohen's journey takes him from New York City, through the Rust Belt (specifically Flint, Michigan), the greater Ohio valley, the Deep South, and Washington, D.C., with a side trip to Silicon Valley. Mixing interviews, personal observation, and statistical data, he finds that de Tocqueville's trenchant, generally buoyant opinions of the young republic (based in part on misunderstood assumptions) no longer hold true. The gap between rich and poor is rapidly widening; race and religion have become divisive social factors; lobbyists wield disproportionate influence in government; and for an increasing number of citizens the dream of upward mobility has become an "almost willfully stupid denial of reality."

Cohen covers much ground here very rapidly. His statistics come in flurries. His observations, while ardent, tend toward the obvious; his mini-histories are blurry and conflated, and many of his encounters with various citizens, from stockbrokers to migrant workers, perfunctory. It is not that his conclusions, pessimistic for the most part, are invalid, necessarily, but the evidence upon which he builds his case can seem too often too meager to support them. --H. O'Billovitch

About the Author:

David Cohen is an award-winning British and South African journalist who has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Financial Times, and British GQ, as well as for The New York Times. He was born in Birmingham, England, grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, and returned to England in the late eighties to attend Oxford University where he studied politics, philosophy and economics. He came to the United States in 1997 on a Harkness Fellowship and was hosted by Columbia University for three years. He lives in London with his wife and two daughters. This is his first book.

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