American Vertigo

American Vertigo

Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville

Book - 2006 | 1st ed.
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What does it mean to be an American, and what can America be today?To answer these questions, celebrated philosopher and journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy spent a year traveling throughout the country in the footsteps of another great Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, whose Democracy in America remains the most influential book ever written about our country. The result isAmerican Vertigo, a fascinating, wholly fresh look at a country we sometimes only think we know. From Rikers Island to Chicago mega-churches, from Muslim communities in Detroit to an Amish enclave in Iowa, Lévy investigates issues at the heart of our democracy: the special nature of American patriotism, the coexistence of freedom and religion (including the religion of baseball), the prison system, the "return of ideology" and the health of our political institutions, and much more. He revisits and updates Tocqueville's most important beliefs, such as the dangers posed by "the tyranny of the majority," explores what Europe and America have to learn from each other, and interprets what he sees with a novelist's eye and a philosopher's depth. Through powerful interview-based portraits across the spectrum of the American people, from prison guards to clergymen, from Norman Mailer to Barack Obama, from Sharon Stone to Richard Holbrooke, Lévy fills his book with a tapestry of American voices--some wise, some shocking. Both the grandeur and the hellish dimensions of American life are unflinchingly explored. And big themes emerge throughout, from the crucial choices America faces today to the underlying reality that, unlike the "Old World," America remains the fulfillment of the world's desire to worship, earn, and live as one wishes--a place, despite all, where inclusion remains not just an ideal but an actual practice. At a time when Americans are anxious about how the world perceives them and, indeed, keen to make sense of themselves, a brilliant and sympathetic foreign observer has arrived to help us begin a new conversation about the meaning of America.
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2006.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9781400064342
Branch Call Number: 917.304931
Characteristics: 308 p. ; 25 cm.


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Mar 14, 2018

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville traveled across the United States, a journey that ultimately resulted in the classic Democracy in America. In 2004, Bernard-Henri Levy was contracted by The Atlantic magazine to conduct a new survey of American society. The two French intellectuals, separated by nearly two centuries, could not be more different: Tocqueville was a Catholic aristocrat wary of "progress", Levy a Jewish liberal, albeit one somewhat estranged from the mainstream by his support for Israel. Tocqueville wrote for a French audience, Levy for an American magazine. In the 1830s, the United States was, for the French, a strange distant country with more wilderness than civilization, while by the beginning of the 21st century it was the global hegemon whose influence was unavoidable.

Levy states at the outset that Tocqueville means far more to Americans than to Frenchmen, and indeed at times his journey seems to owe more to On the Road and Easy Rider than Democracy in America - Levy is not exploring a new world, but rather a place he already knows, or thinks he knows. Certainly it lacks Tocqueville's timelessness - a mere decade later and it is difficult not to smile at the quaintness of a time when Barack Obama was the harbinger of post-racial America and George W Bush was Literally Hitler. For a long road trip, Levy is an interesting and (despite occasional fits of snobbishness) consistently charming companion, but, sadly, there are no surprises on this journey. Generally, Levy seems remarkably incurious - he arrives in the US with his conclusions already solidly in place, with the result that most of the book reads as if it could have been written even had he stayed at home.

Aug 08, 2016

Very interesting as he describes his travels through out America. Interesting comments from someone who is not a citizen and maybe sees somethings more clearly that we do about ourselves. The latter part gets a little deep with his philosophy and comments, so I skimmed some of it. But it makes the reader think.


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