Our Towns

Our Towns

A 100,000-mile Journey Into the Heart of America

Book - 2018
Average Rating:
Rate this:
4
A unique, revelatory portrait of small-town America: the activities, changes, and events that shape this mostly unseen part of our national landscape, and the issues and concerns that matter to the ordinary Americans who make these towns their home. For the last five years, James and Deborah Fallows have been traveling across America in a single-prop airplane, visiting small cities and meeting civic leaders, factory workers, recent immigrants, and young entrepreneurs, seeking to take the pulse and discern the outlook of an America that is unreported and unobserved by the national media. Attending town meetings, breakfasts at local coffee shops, and events at local libraries, they have listened to the challenges and problems that define American lives today. Our Towns is the story of their journey--an account of their visits to twenty-one cities and towns: the individuals they met, the stories they heard, and their portrait of the many different faces of the American future.
Publisher: New York : Pantheon Books, 2018
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781101871843
1101871849
Characteristics: x, 413 p. ; 25 cm
Additional Contributors: Fallows, Deborah

Opinion

From the critics


Community Activity

Comment

Add a Comment
PimaLib_NormS May 24, 2019

James and Deborah Fallows have written “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America”, and it is not the kind of breezy travelogue I was expecting. It is more of a deep, extended five-year dive into dozens of cities and towns, to learn what works and what doesn’t, in order to assess the overall health of small and large urban areas in America. It was quite interesting to read about the creative and pragmatic ideas these places have come up with for revitalizing their communities. For example, the voters of Dodge City surprisingly voted for a permanent tax increase to fund civic improvements. Not necessarily groundbreaking news, but a tax increase supported by Republicans? In a redder than red state like Kansas? The lesson I took from “Our Towns” is that on a local level, politicians are more apt to act in service to their communities, with political parties having less influence. If the garbage doesn’t get picked up, if the potholes do not get filled, officeholders will get voted out, regardless of party affiliation. Contrast this with what we see in politics nationally. Politicians act in service to their parties and political base. It is all about winning elections, and it is not about anything that deviates from party doctrine. And, there is next to no price to pay for the politicians, as incumbents are overwhelmingly re-elected by the voters. “Our Towns” actually gives a bit of hope that, at least locally, stuff is getting done, for the benefit of all.

r
Russ_A
Feb 01, 2019

The authors give an account of their three-year journey by small plane across America, telling us their impressions of the communities they visited. The focus is on one question: why here? The question applies both to the residents and to the businesses that provide the economic lifeblood. Since the book avoids the major metropolitan areas, one answer universal to all the locations in the book is the low cost of being there. Low cost of living and low cost of labor make a town attractive to families and employers alike. But since that applies to probably 90% of the geographic area of America, I was looking for more – for what makes a town unique – i.e. what makes a town thrive “in the sticks?”

The authors do give many interesting tidbits along those lines, and that made the book worth reading. I’ll mention a few in a bit, but since they tend to be spoilers, I want to save those until later. I was sorely disappointed in a couple of aspects of the book, however. First and foremost is the fact that the title is a bait-and-switch. The authors wrote very little about towns. The vast majority was about medium-sized cities. Of the 29 listed names in the Table of Contents, the median population was 47,000. Two of them were state capitals and others were major regional hubs. There were only three towns below population 3000 and anything below population 20,000 got very short shrift, mostly no more than two pages. The other disappointment was the repetition. Nearly every chapter focused on just a few aspects of these cities: civic boosterism, (re)vitalization of the downtown, K-12 education, libraries, brewpubs, and river walks. These things are important, to be sure, but differed very little in their specifics and didn’t tell us much we didn’t know since virtually every town does the same thing. I skimmed a lot through the second half of the book.

Now for some of the spoilers, but they’re reasons why you should read the book. On the plus side, one unexpected bonus was the description of what it’s like to tour the country by small plane. I learned a lot that I didn’t know or hadn’t thought about, such as what makes a small regional airport good (clean bathrooms, a good crew car, a good-sized runway). The best parts for me were the accounts of a local lifeblood enterprise. Most were major businesses but these also included military bases, universities, or unique geographical features. An obvious one that attracts employers is proximity to major road, rail, or water routes, but some are not so obvious: a windswept plain that attracts windmill manufacturers; a midwestern town where the residents speak clear, “unaccented” American English that’s perfect for call centers; an abandoned factory or closed military base that already has valuable infrastructure. Often the key was simply the value of being a hometown for someone who made it big. One lesson I learned was how much people have an affection for where they grew up, so inventors and entrepreneurs, even actors or sports stars, return there and set up shop, providing jobs.

h
HockeyJudgeNYC
Nov 28, 2018

Quite an undertaking. I read the audio copy of this book, which is very long--interesting, but hard to stick with it. Nonetheless, the book had a lot to say about towns that experienced hardship and tried different ways to bounce back. It also showed how very different towns independently employed similar methods to recover from losses. As someone who has always wanted to travel the country and just talk to people about their lives, I found myself wishing I could have gone with the Fallows in their little plane and seen America from just above the rooftops.

t
TechWriter1
Oct 08, 2018

There is more to America than what you see and hear on the national news or on your favorite cable TV politics outlet. Travel with the Fallows through America's small towns to learn about the real work of your neighbors to make our communities better. The results are not perfect or complete but they are often amazing and always encouraging. America is and has always been an experiment, a work in progress.

Age

Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.

Summary

Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.

Notices

Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Quotes

Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Recommendations

Subject Headings

  Loading...

Find it at CALS

  Loading...
[]
[]
To Top