After spending 20 years in England (see Notes from a Small Island), Bill Bryson returns to his
home town of Des Moines in Iowa (I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to). Obviously feeling the need and the
urge to get acquainted with his home country, he goes on a tour of the USA in two instalments. In the first
which takes place in the fall of 1987 he travels most of the Eastern states and in the second he resumes the trip in the spring of
1988 and covers most of the West.
He relates in his typically humorous and ironic way what he experiences on his trip, which his old Chevy Chevette
takes him to 38 states. He revisits places like Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, the Rocky Mts or
Gettysburg where his father took him when he was a child.
Now he also travels to places where ordinary tourists would also go like the Smoky Mts, the Gran Canyon or the Yellowstone Park.
But the more ineresting places he visits are those in remote places where ordinary people would necessarily not go.
So he makes long detours to get eg. to the Geographical Center of the USA which is in Northern
Kansas or to Holcomb, also a little town in Kansas which Truman Capote chose as the setting for
his book In Cold Blood. There two crooks ruthlessly killed a wealthy rancher, his wife and their two teenaged
children. Strangely enough, when Bryson addresses people there pertaining to that incident, nobody seems to know anything about it.
In Idaho he visits a place called Acorn, a town where American for the first time used nuclear energy in 1951 to
generate electricity. Only recently the US government admitted that the most lethal substance, Plutonium, had
been found to be leaking there to subterranean reservoirs.
In South Dakota he has a look at the strangely shaped Devils Tower, the mountain which Steven Spielberg used in his
Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
In Tennessee Bryson visits Columbus, Tennessee Williams' hometown. In Missouri he goes to Hannibal where there is Mark
Twain's boyhood home or in Mississippi he travels to Rowan Oak, William Faulkner's home.
On long and boring stretches of countryside, esp. in Nebraska or Nevada, Bryson has time to ponder about his country and
society in quite a critical way. So he makes fun of the large number of overweighed people, he criticizes Americans'
careless behaviour with their environment (see above Acorn/nuclear waste), the high crime rate in connection with the
almost unlimited use of guns, the mass tourism esp. in National Parks (motorhome cult) or those
typically American women wearing butterfly glasses and a beehive hairdo.
If you really like good humour or even plan to travel to America yourself, this is the book to read.