Friday, April 13, 2007

American Vertigo

American Vertigo, by Bernard-Henri Levy
$10.17 at ISBN: 0812974719
What a fascinating book this turned out to be! First, a little back story: Shortly after our country gained its independence, Europeans were curious about what life was like in America without a king. How was democracy working out? A French writer named Alexis de Tocqueville came to America and wrote about the experience, producing a series of famous essays on democracy and the American spirit. 165 years later, Bernard-Henri Levy, France's eminent philosopher made the same journey, traveling all across the US, to see what our country is like after almost two centuries. How have we measured up to the dreams of our Founding Fathers, and the expectations of the world?
He does all sorts of interesting things. He begins by visiting some of our country's prisons, which is a somewhat harrowing experience for even the bravest observer. He visits churches, malls, theme parks, and lots of fast food joints: all the institutions that are part of the American identity. There are a few celebrities in here as well, including presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Levy made some very insightful observations about both, and our current president as well. He visits Amish country, the hometown of baseball, and a most interesting trip to Dallas pursuing some thoughts on the Kennedy assassination.
After the journal of his travels, Levy finishes the book with a series of essays on what it means to be an American, my favorite of which involves the American preoccupation with religion. Our recent "war with Islam" brings up the interesting question of how a country with religious freedom has produced so many fanatics and fundamentalists.
Overall, I'm pleased to say, Levy seems to have had a good time in the United States and holds its citizens in reasonably high regard. It was a lot of fun for me to see my own country through the eyes of an outsider, and a more brilliant or esteemed observer can't be found. This is a smashing book by a brilliant and charming man! Our two nations had a cool period in international relations a while back, over the business in Iraq. Differences between our leaders notwithstanding, America has not truer friend than our very first ally... Vive la France!

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