This is nothing less than first-rate travel writing. Snaking from coast to coast on America's great rivers, William Least Heat-Moon explores the hundreds of small countries that he says America is. Whether he's channeling us along the Hudson, the Ohio, the Mississippi, or the Columbia, or chatting with small town barbers or flood victims, Heat-Moon is one powerful writer. He's been compared to Melville, been praised by Robert Penn Warren, and been lionized on National Public Radio.
Writing under the name Heat-Moon (Blue Highways), William Trogdon once again sets out across America, this time propelled chiefly by a dual-outboard boat dubbed Nikawa, "River Horse" in Osage. In this hardy craft, he and a small crew attempt to travel more than 5000 miles by inland waterways from the Atlantic to the Pacific in a single season. Citing 19th-century travelogues and dredging odd bits of the rivers' past, Heat-Moon conveys the significance of passing "beneath a bridge that has looked down on the stovepipe hat of Abraham Lincoln, the mustache of Mark Twain, the sooty funnels of a hundred thousand steamboats." Though at first he is struck by how river travel is "so primordial, so unchanged in its path," he later notes that the only thing Lewis and Clark would recognize on a dammed and severely altered stretch of the Missouri River is the bedeviling prairie wind. But what remains constant for him is "the greatest theme in our history: the journey." It is an American theme, though by "westering" and persistently believing that the voyage is destined to succeed, Heat-Moon seems to be on dangerous waters for someone who is part Native American. But his romantic attachment to the nature of exploration doesn't occlude his indictments of pollution, overzealous river management and aboriginal displacement. The book, though largely engaging, is not without its slow spots, which Heat-Moon avers are true to the trip's nature: "the river is no blue highway because the river removes reverie." Heat-Moon has written a rich chronicle of a massive and meaningful undertaking. Unlike Blue Highways, however, the focus is not so much on people and places as on the trials of a journey that bypasses them in favor of reaching its destination. Illus. 250,000 first printing; $250,000 ad/promo; 13-city author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Adventurer Heat-Moon carefully planned an unusual voyage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, via American lakes and rivers. Naming his boat Nikawa, which means "river horse" in the Osage Indian language, Heat-Moon set off from New York City harbor with his friend Pilotis. Using a diary format, he talks about places they visit, problems they encounter, and people they meet. The characters are basically colorful but lack charisma. Conversations/comments mostly reveal a rather banal, forced cleverness. Boating and travel quotations are woven in along with considerable profanity and several gruesome stories. Technically, the tapes are fine. Jay O. Sanders's clear voice, inflection, and overall talent improve the often-stilted material. A map showing the route of the trip would have been an interesting addition. A marginal purchase for adult travel collections.--Carolyn Alexander, Brigadoon Lib., Salinas, CA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
There's high drama, skillfully captured, in parts of the narrative, along with perceptive observation of people and scenes. Heat-Moon, who holds a PhD in English literature, deepens his tale by interweaving the writings of earlier travelers. But Nikawa's brisk, mostly overnight stopovers give the author less opportunity for the kinds of encounters with people and placessharply etched, revealing, quirkythat kept readers turning pages in his earlier book.
A coast-to-coast journey by way of great rivers, conducted by a contemporary master of travel writing. "I've visited every county in the contiguous states except for a handful in the Deep South," writes William Trogdon, a.k.a. William Least Heat-Moon (Blue Highways, 1983; Prairyerth, 1991). "Put your finger at random anywhere in [a] United States atlas, and I've either been there or within twenty-five miles of it." He'd logged hundreds and thousands of road miles, true, but Least Heat-Moona skilled sailor and navy veteranhad spent far less time on America's rivers. To remedy that, he set out a couple of years ago on a 5,000-mile, four-month journey from Astoria, N.Y., to Astoria, Ore., in the company of an eminently pleasant Sancho Panza whom he calls "Pilotis" and a small crew, his craft a 22-foot-long dory called Nikawa, an Osage Indian word meaning "river horse." Least Heat-Moon has a lovely, light touch as an instructor, but instruct he does, reminding his readers of the importance of rivers in American history as he travels along the Hudson, Ohio, Missouri, Salmon, and other watercourses. His asides, the kind of remarks you'd hear in a roadside diner over a steaming cup of bad coffee, are uniformly interesting. Who knew, for instance, that for many years the Mississippi was considered a tributary of the Missouri and not the other way around? Why does history make so little of Abraham Lincoln's time working a flatboat along the Ohio River drainage, where he witnessed firsthand the horrors of slavery? Why was it that until the US Army Corps of Engineers got to tinkering with stream channels, American rivers rarely flooded, rarely caused the catastrophic damage that hasshaped the news over the last few years? Writing with an eye for local color and little-examined history (and sneaking in a pages-long sentence worthy of James Joyce in the bargain), Least Heat-Moon turns in a stirring narrative of a journey into landscapes few have seenan America that "isn't a big country but hundreds of smaller ones." Vintage Least Heat-Moon, radiant with intelligence and masterful storytelling. (First printing of 250,000; $250,000 ad/promo; author tour)
"Heat-Moon's exuberant erudition propels the reader with historical vignettes, ecological and geological detail, and often hilarious encounters with local eccentrics." --
"Heat-Moon's prose is clear, straight-forward and lively and his vision unclouded." --