Tom Zoellner teaches at Chapman University and Dartmouth College, serves as politics editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books and is the author and coauthor of seven previous books. In this robust and revealing collection of essays, he examines "the relationship between the American landscape and the national character."
Like many a previous scout looking for the soul of this complicated, conflicted, and mysterious land, he follows not only his hunches but his obsessions. Zoellner gets caught up in the thrills and chills of trying to climb to the tallest point in each of the 50 states. Equally challenging is his examination of the destiny of Dollar General Stores which he finds to be the perfect place to shop for "dish soap, tuna fish, bread and Coors Light."
Other cultural topics which catch his interest are Nevada's game industry, the white man's betrayal of Native Americas, the 1950s A-bomb tests in the Nevada desert, and the economic crash of small towns.
Throughout this book, Zoellner proves to be a connoisseur of the spirituality of place. He concludes:
"This is America, too — a country of destruction and reinventions where the scythe sits on the table next to the blueprint. We think we own the land, but the land survives while we and our sand structures do not. The raw physicality of the ground pulls at us like an undertow, reminding us of where we stand and who we are. More than a flag, a tribe, an ethnicity, a legal agreement, a cluster of art, or a production of culture, America is a civilization of whereness. Our shared geography between the oceans is the lowest common denominator within this clashing territory of strangers. The land that we gain and lose in endless cycle is the substance of our national communion; this road of constant change is our blotchy and beautiful inheritance."