Looking for America is one Englishman’s quest to understand the United States through a mixture of personal experience – including raising “haff-and-hawf” children with his American wife – wide-ranging travel and a deep dive into history.
Visiting 13 different places, in homage to the 13 original colonies, the author puts key events in American history under the spotlight and uses them to explore what they tell us about contemporary American politics, society and culture. An ideal companion in the age of Trump and “Hamilton”.
It starts in Plymouth, with the Pilgrims, who no more intended to be there than the author did (for the Pilgrims it was the tides that prevented them from leaving, for the author and his family, an Icelandic volcano).
The book then moves to Boston and Philadelphia because, well… without them, no USA (no Battles of Lexington and Concord or Bunker Hill, no Declaration of Independence, no Constitution).
In Washington, DC, the author tackles the War of 1812 and explores the reasons the USA has the tune of an English drinking song for a National Anthem.
California is visited in search of gold and a reflection on how America “is not a colonial nation”.
Chapter 6 focusses on the Civil War based on a visit to Gettysburg, with thoughts on the author’s hero Abraham Lincoln and a reflection on how the Civil War still infuses American politics.
In the Black Hills the reader encounters the Lakota Indians at the Crazy Horse Memorial, the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre and later at the Little Bighorn battlefield (“Custer’s Last Stand”).
Following this, the author heads to Tombstone, Arizona, where he nearly re-enacts the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral and tries to comprehend the implications of and current debates around the “right to bear arms.”
Next up: Prohibition, Al Capone and the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, but not before the author and his wife are warned off taking the “El” on their way to watch baseball.
Pearl Harbor is next, but again not until the author discovers that the US was already “in” the war even before the Japanese paid their own visit in 1941.
After that, back to Washington, DC to meet Martin Luther King and his dream at the Lincoln Memorial.
A trip to Cape Canaveral, interrupting a perfectly good Florida vacation as far as the author’s children were concerned, covers at the Space Race and the Cold War.
The book concludes in New York City on 9/11, witnessed from a rapidly-deserted Chicago, where the author misses a Cubs game and reflects on America’s place on the world stage today.
Looking for America is a great introduction to the USA for those who like their history pithy, witty and never knowingly post-truth.