Praise for This Noble Land
“A book-length essay on the often worrying, often inspiring course of America in the nine decades of Michener’s life.”—The Washington Post
“Michener is more interested in fixing the problems than in fixing the blame.”—The Dallas Morning News
“Michener’s are the beach books that, unlike most other beach books, leave you smarter than you were when you started reading. Each delivers the product of all that research, doled out to the reader at just the right rate. You know right away who the bad guys are—the petty ones, the stingy ones. The heroes are generous and energetic and smart and, above all, unprejudiced. The real-life villains in This Noble Land are the people Michener perceives as ‘petty, mean and vengeful.’”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Stirring . . . an admirable effort to define what has made our country great and how to preserve what is best about it.”—Kirkus Reviews
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||1 BALLANTI|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:February 3, 1907
Date of Death:October 16, 1997
Place of Death:Austin, Texas
Education:B.A. in English and history (summa cum laude), Swarthmore College, 1929; A.M., University of Northern Colorado, 1937.
Read an Excerpt
Sitting in my Texas garden as I approach my ninetieth birthday, I often reflect upon my life in the United States, enjoying what the nation offers now but shuddering at the pitfalls that threaten us in the years ahead. Since this report is an evaluation of life in my homeland, I had better begin with justifying why I consider myself qualified to brave making some judgments about America.
Foremost is my dedication to the United States. It began in the earliest years of my life. In a Presbyterian Sunday school I was taught that God had elected our country as His favorite land and all that our leaders did was in obedience to His loving care. Devoutly I believed that we were His special charges.
Each morning at our public school, which I attended from age six to eighteen, we opened the day with school prayer, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and, on many mornings, the bellowing of a song that we sang in unison:
“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!”
Each time I sang these words in my usual off-key voice, I was convinced that a universal brotherhood did exist in my noble homeland.
In those days the indoctrination of children with a love of their homeland began at age six and continued daily for the next twelve years. I have often thought back on that simpler time and concluded that it is better for a child to have some strong moral and social beliefs rather than none at all, even though his indoctrination may have been chauvinistic, muddled or even erroneous. Later he can correct error, but if he has allegiance to nothing he has nothing to work on in his later reeducation.
At an early age I began to know our country well, for at fourteen I hitchhiked north and south, and some years later I probed far to the west. In adult life I lived for extended periods in scattered states: Pennsylvania, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Maryland, Florida, Texas, Maine and Alaska. I spent shorter six-month periods in Virginia and Ohio, and I made enlightening visits of some length researching in the American islands of Samoa, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.
From these travels I acquired an appreciation of the fact that we are a country with unique blessings. Our land territory stretches from ocean to ocean, so we did not have to worry about our neighboring nations east or west; there were only those north and south, which, by great good fortune, were friendly nations: Canada and Mexico. True, we did have skirmishes with Canada, but we quickly backed off, and we did have far more serious wars with Mexico, from whom we acquired—or perhaps stole would be a better word—an amazingly rich southern tier of states that had belonged to her: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, with extensions reaching into states like Colorado. But in general our neighbors’ amicability allowed us freedom to develop peacefully inside our spacious borders. We owe much to Canada and Mexico.
Within our boundaries we have almost unimaginable riches: agricultural land capable of providing much of the rest of the world with wheat, corn, beef and other foods. We also have spectacular natural beauty: our vast prairies, our towering mountains, our deep canyons, our vital rivers. We are a land truly blessed, for beneath this beauty lie immense deposits of petroleum and the precious minerals gold and silver.
I established in seven of the big states what amounted to permanent homes and participated in the social, economic and political life of the areas. Thus I became familiar with eastern seaboard traditions, the radically different patterns in the Far West, the rigid values of New England, the seductive charm of the South, the unique character of life in Texas, the allure of Hawaii and the frozen wonders of Alaska, where I spent extended time one winter in total darkness north of the Arctic Circle. And on the islands—Pacific and Caribbean—I witnessed how our nation operated as a colonial power.
The reason I was deficient in my knowledge of the West Coast states was a somewhat complicated one. I married an American woman of Japanese descent, whose birth in the United States automatically made her an American citizen. But when we were catapulted into World War II by the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, public opinion in California became so inflamed that my future wife’s family was given two days to liquidate all their holdings and was moved into an American-style concentration camp that used the stables at the Santa Anita Racetrack as living quarters. In later years my wife boasted humorously: “Our family occupied the stall of the great horse Equipoise.
“Despite her ability to make light of what had happened to her, she rebelled when I attempted in the 1960s to move our headquarters to California so that I could write what I hoped would be a strong novel on that state. She said: “I could not sleep easily in California. Remembering how they abused my mother and me would be too painful!” So I lost the opportunity to live in one of our mightiest states and write what might have been one of my better books.
However, in our later years she became forgiving: “True, we were thrown into concentration camps, mine was in Colorado, but they must not be compared with Hitler’s terrible death camps. None of us was killed or tortured, and last year the government did compensate us for our losses—if only ten cents on the dollar—as a kind of apology for what they had done.” Then she laughed: “By sending us to strange areas they forced us to leave what might later have developed into a Japanese ghetto in California. We scattered to places like New England, Utah, Oklahoma and, in my case, to a good life in Chicago, where I met you.”
I too would experience how difficult and sometimes cruel life in America can be, for I was born a foundling, reared in genteel poverty, and was occasionally brought to the local poorhouse when family funds diminished. My life till age fourteen was a struggle with deprivation, and when I had worked my way out of poverty—I was constantly employed from age eleven—I was faced by the Great Depression and the ravages of World War I.
I watched the brutal way in which American capitalism waged battle against labor unions and the tricks by which blacks were deprived of their rights in the South. I also came out strongly against the death penalty, for I saw that it was imposed primarily upon the unfortunates in our society, seldom against the well-to-do, whose high-priced lawyers could be trusted to find a compassionate judge and a jury of middle-class conservatives to set them free.
But despite this early indoctrination into the uglier aspects of our political world, I was never attracted by the Communism then rampant. I was sensible enough to see that whereas some of its social principles were identical with some of mine, its economic proposals and its dictatorship had minimal chances of being adopted in the United States. My early conclusions on such matters never wavered and my rejection of state Communism became total.
As I matured I would write a series of comprehensive novels about my country, and in doing so, I had to immerse myself in research regarding Hawaii, Colorado, the Chesapeake lands, the American space program, Texas, Alaska and the Pennsylvania Dutch country. And when one has an in-depth understanding of the history of those varied areas, one almost automatically gains insight into what motivates our nation. I also wrote a protracted analysis of the sports world in America, as well as a little book, a kind of novel, that investigated the principles of our Constitution. During some of those years I also taught American history at various levels and made myself reasonably conversant with constitutional law.
From such experiences I gained a solid understanding of American history, economic development and social values. But I acquired even more instruction in the realities of American life during the five times in which I campaigned for one public office or another: electoral delegate for both Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie; member of the U.S. House of Representatives—an unsuccessful but edifying bid; official of the Democratic Party; and, most important of all, delegate to and secretary for the splendid constitutional convention that rewrote the laws for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I fought vigorously for various improvements in our state government: reduction of the ridiculous size of the legislature; merit appointment of judges; taxation on church property not used specifically for religious functions; and the elimination of superfluous row-office elective jobs like coroner and prothonotary. I lost every one of these battles, but when the convention ended, delegates from both parties appointed me to spend another six months helping to install the new governmental systems. I learned much about the United States from these excursions into the political realities. Specifically, I learned to admire the hardworking professional politicians in each party who labored diligently to make their party, their state and their nation a better place.
Excerpt From: James A. Michener. “This Noble Land: My Vision for America.” iBooks.
Excerpt From: James A. Michener. “This Noble Land: My Vision for America.” iBooks.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
He is a great novelist, but I am very much disappointed in this "Vision for America." Although he makes some profound points about our problems, his "solutions" are no more than statements about what he things should ideally happen. Moreover, he takes a generally liberal approach while admittedly not knowing exactly how these ideas will work. Toward the end, he reveals that this book was inspired in response to the "Republican Revolution." In fairness, James Michener has seen a lot of history and experienced as many cultures as just about anyone. So he has a right to comment on the topic. He does adequately refute anyone who calls him "un-American" because of his agenda. And I do see validity in his points about the impending malaise of our economic status in the international market, as well as the strong probability of major racial upheaval in the next century. However, the other policies he advocates seem to lack a basis in logic. Universal health care is in principle a good thing, but I do not believe an unfounded criticism against he profit-seeking health care industry is the answer. His advocacy of gun control is based on commonly misused statistics and unrepresentative of the founding principles Michener understands well. He does make a powerful argument for the value of the social safety net, but against a stark picture of an ever-growing welfare culture, a something-must-be-done-and-surely-some-economists-can-do-it attitude is inadequate for the task at hand. Michener sees a noble land and no one portrays it better than he does. While he did affect my thinking in some areas, he does not have the answers.