Friday, May 3, 2013


It's difficult to be objective about yourself.  Sometimes it takes an outsider to offer a different perspective.  As Americans, our natural disposition is to be liked.  But that's not always the case.  Here's my short collection of outsiders who have come to America and reported their findings.  Some admirers; some less so.

1.  Cio America!  An Italian Discovers the U.S.  Beppe Severgnini (1995).  Columbus discovered America and five hundred years later, Italian journalist, Beppe Severgnini, rented a row house in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood and recorded his observations for the next year.  Severgnini offers a wonderful sense of detachment to make his observations amusing showing affection for America but also gently poking fun.  Bought used somewhere.

2.  American Notes: A Journey, Charles Dickens (1842; Fromm edition, 1985).  In 1842, Charles Dickens toured the U.S. writing about Wall Street, the prison system, slavery and the American press.  He didn't like America much concluding that we were a bunch of "intensified bores."  Bought used at the State Department Bookstore.  

3.  American Journals, Albert Camus.  Nobel laureate Camus kept journals of his travels to North and South America between 1946 to 1949.  In his notes on the U.S. he writes that "everything in America is done to prove that life is not tragic."   Christmas gift 1987 from my mother at the end of my "Camus phase".  

4.  The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, Bill Bryson (2001).  Bryson, an Iowa native, lived an ex-pat life in the U.K. for 25 years and returned to the U.S. for a look around.  He's included here because his 25 years give him the outsider's eye.   I'm a big Bryson fan but a lot of his remarks in Lost seem like he's whining about easy targets in small town America.  Bought used somewhere.

5.  Broken Image: Foreign Critics of America, ed. by Gerald Emanuel Stern (1972).  Mostly a collection of Europeans who had contempt for America: Lenin, H.G. Wells, Sigmund Freud ("I regret Columbus ever discovered it!"), and Hitler.  Bought used somewhere.

6.  Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville (1835; 1946 edition).  Described as "perhaps the greatest work ever written on one country by the citizen of another."  De Tocqueville traveled extensively through the U.S. in the early 1830s.   He offered extensive and often prescient observations of the U.S. political and legal system.    Inscription: "Christmas 1946 Annabelle, Loreine and J.T. Kendrick, American Embassy, Warsaw, Poland."  Bought used at the State Department Bookstore.


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