"A fascinating investigation into American places and themes; metaphors for our country . . . Zoellner sums up America as 'a country of destruction and reinvention where the scythe sits on the table next to the blueprint . . . America is a culture of whereness . . . this road of constant change is our blotchy and beautiful inheritance.' The National Road is an enthralling journey that proves his point." ––Martha Anne Toll, NPR
"A poignant collection of essays about American identity." ––Outside
"Using the road as metaphor, Zoellner captures not only places, people, and motifs across the continent but also the very quality of movement . . . Zoellner’s love for America as landscape sits at the center of this book." ––Marie Mutsuki Mockett, Alta
"An offering that fits neatly into the welter of recent, very good books about America, and yet lives agreeably apart, too. A slender, powerful volume of essays, The National Road is neither prescriptive, nor despairing, nor bug-eyed with indignation . . . The collection instead comes across as thoughtful, unhurried and even (hold on to your Stetsons) deeply and simply spiritual . . . It’s also a flat-out pleasure to read, as Zoellner crafts passages ranging from punchy to marvelously descriptive to almost painfully evocative." ––Benedict Cosgrove, Red Canary Collective
"The question of who we are as a people eludes a definitive answer, but his collection of essays offers a penetrating look at that controversial, sometimes nettlesome question . . . Possessed of a keen moral sense, he locates all the touchstones, bridges the fault lines and brings to life many emblems of American history, all the while assaying the plague of partisan politics and environmental decay. Zoellner exposes naiveté, folly and corruption with calm, persuasive clarity." ––Bill Thompson, The Post and Courier
"Eloquent essays that examine the relationship between the American landscape and the national character . . . Zoellner laces this . . . incisive account with perceptive character sketches and astute observations. The result is a poignant reminder that in America, 'constant change is our blotchy and beautiful inheritance.'"––Publishers Weekly
"America is a vast and daunting prospect, and Zoellner thirsts for more. Longing for a kind of national cultural citizenship, the author knows that absorbing even the barest fraction of a country’s everyday majesty, and tribulation, is the work of a lifetime. He seems up to the task . . . Zoellner exposes naiveté, foolishness, and malfeasance with equal clarity, but he is evenhanded and sometimes produces a piece of sardonic humor, haunting beauty, or melancholy that pulsates on the page. He is both a first-rate reporter with years of newspaper and magazine work behind him and a skilled stylist who makes you want to come back for more. Highly recommended. Zoellner will acquaint you with byways, and mores, you never knew existed." ––Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"If George Packer and John McPhee collaborated on a collection that examined contemporary American life, while simultaneously exhibiting an intense feeling for the country's vast landscape, it might look something like Tom Zoellner's stimulating The National Road: Dispatches from a Changing America . . . The National Road's subjects are diverse and unfailingly interesting. No matter how well readers think they may know the United States, it's guaranteed there will be something here to surprise, delight or unsettle them." ––Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
”Tom Zoellner is one of my go-to authors. He has a clear eye, a deep soul and a very sharp pen. This new collection drives like the best car on the Autobahn on a spring day as you speed toward the mountains." ––Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels and The Devil's Highway
”Tom Zoellner writes like a dream and thinks like the best kind of realistthe kind whose truth telling is infused with fundamental compassion, implicit empathy, and genuine curiosity. Timeless as this subject matter is, The National Road may be the perfect guidebook for a tour of the American geographical and social landscape right now. It skips the political muck of the moment and takes us deep into the root systems of our knotty, bewildering, often-exasperating yet reliably awe-inspiring country." ––Meghan Daum, author of The Problem With Everything: My Journey Through The New Culture Wars
"Who and what is America? Tom Zoellner's wonderful The National Road takes us a long way toward right understanding, a forty-years-and-counting road trip across American space and time that absorbs huge swaths of our collective experience. Casinos and atom bombs, real estate and porn movies, small-town corruption, big-city strivers, Mormon martyrs and so much more get rolled into the pages of this questing and questioning big-hearted book. To get where we're going, we need to know where we've gone, and Tom Zoellner is the best guide for our times that I know of." Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
America is a vast and daunting prospect, and Zoellner thirsts for more.
Longing for a kind of national cultural citizenship, the author knows that absorbing even the barest fraction of a country’s everyday majesty, and tribulation, is the work of a lifetime. He seems up to the task. In addition to his seven previous books, Zoellner, the politics editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, teaches at Chapman University and Dartmouth College. The principal inspiration for this collection was journalist John Gunther’s Inside U.S.A.(1947), which Zoellner calls “a staggering achievement and the best tome about this nation ever written.” Taking on a similar task, Zoellner wonders how an increasingly fractured nation of such disparate lands and peoples remains united, however tenuously, in a consensus informed by the Constitution. The author’s diverse, penetrating essays, some previously published, can only answer that question in part, but his effort is valiant, deeply moral, and often moving, based on observations gleaned from 30 years of crisscrossing the country, frequently by car. Zoellner grasps all the touchstones and knows all too well the challenges and depredations, be they cultural or ecological. He also traverses the fault lines, from the income, opportunity, and urban-rural divides to immigration and the growing distrust of key liberal values by those inhabiting “zones of exclusion.” He also vivifies many historic emblems, including the mythic scaffolding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or how King Philip’s War in Puritan New England was a tragic template for the destruction of Native lands in America. Zoellner exposes naiveté, foolishness, and malfeasance with equal clarity, but he is evenhanded and sometimes produces a piece of sardonic humor, haunting beauty, or melancholy that pulsates on the page. He is both a first-rate reporter with years of newspaper and magazine work behind him and a skilled stylist who makes you want to come back for more.
Highly recommended. Zoellner will acquaint you with byways, and mores, you never knew existed.