The National Road

Dispatches from a Changing America

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Book Description

This collection of “eloquent essays that examine the relationship between the American landscape and the national character” serves to remind us that despite our differences we all belong to the same land (Publishers Weekly).

“How was it possible, I wondered, that all of this American land––in every direction––could be fastened together into a whole?”

What does it mean when a nation accustomed to moving begins to settle down, when political discord threatens unity, and when technology disrupts traditional ways of building communities? Is a shared soil enough to reinvigorate a national spirit?

From the embaattled newsrooms of small town newspapers to the pornography film sets of the Los Angeles basin, from the check–out lanes of Dollar General to the holy sites of Mormonism, from the nation’s highest peaks to the razed remains of a cherished home, like a latter–day Woody Guthrie, Tom Zoellner takes to the highways and byways of a vast land in search of the soul of its people.

By turns nostalgic and probing, incisive and enraged, Zoellner’s reflections reveal a nation divided by faith, politics, and shifting economies, but––more importantly––one united by a shared sense of ownership in the common land.

About the Author

Praise For This Book

“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

“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 realist—the 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