Review: Our Towns – A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James and Deborah Fallows

6 Star Top 10%, Change & Innovation, Civil Society, Complexity & Resilience, Consciousness & Social IQ, Country/Regional, Culture, Research, Democracy, Leadership, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Politics, Public Administration, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution
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6 Stars – A Most Extraordinary Uplifting Account of the Reinvention of America One “Flyover” Town at a Time (42 Specific Towns Visited)

I know James Fallows — he is best-known as a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and as an author for The Atlantic.  I met him after reading three of his books, Blind Into Baghdad: America’s War in Iraq; National Defense; and Free Flight: Inventing the Future of Travel.

I have not read, but want to point out, his books, Breaking the News: How  the Media Undermine American Democracy, and More Like Us: Making America Great Again. He has others. My point is that James Fallows is one of the most earnest observers of American culture and American democracy alive today, a man of integrity, intelligence, and imagination, and I consider it both an honor to know him, and a blessed education anytime I encounter anything he writes.

In the case of this book, OUR TOWNS, he is considerably enhanced by his wife — both together and alone, they explored 42 different towns east and west, north and south and most importantly, right in the middle of the country where most never tread. This quote (page 4) captures their method:

“We have gone to town plays and musicals, sat in on civic meetings, hung out at coffee shops and brewpubs, spent days at schools, libraries and ball games, taken tours of downtowns, visited factories, startu-ups, and community college classes,  taken boat rides and bike rides, swum in local public pools, and run on high school tracks, borrowed cardss and stayed in motels, private homes, and one-off eco-hotels.

Forty two towns in four years.  Absorbing. Listening.  Observing. I am deeply impressed by the authenticity, inclusiveness, and truthfulness of this book. It is EPIC. This is America’s song of life, this is the book we have been waiting for, the catalyst for moving America from the early adopters who have been in Great Awakening mode since at least 2012 (some since Woodstock), toward a mass movement that shuts down the 1% and brings “American Everyman” back to the center of the national stage.

The individual chapters can be read for flavor. The bottom line for those that want extracted meaning up front is provided in the final chapter, and here I will just list what the authors call “signs of civic success.”

01 People work together on practical local possibilites, rather than allowing bitter disagreements about national politics to keep them apart.

02 You can pick out the local patriots that make the town go.

03 The phrase “public-private partnership” refers to something real.

04 People know the civic story.

05 They have downtowns.

06 They are near a research university.

07 They have, and care about, a community college.

08 They have distinctive, innovative schools.

09 They make themselves open (taking pains to assimilate refugees).

10. They have big plans.

10.5. They have at least one craft brewery that scorns government regulation.

11 (my own drawn from the book): They believe in the dream that is America.

I have tears in my eyes as I write this. This is book that should be mandatory reading in civics classes (which no longer exist but should be restored); it should be read by our President and extolled in his first Fireside Chat that is long overdue; and it should above all be an inspiration to every candidate for Mayor and Governor across America.

In a nutshell, the heartland has disconnected from Washington DC (the swamp) and New York City (the cesspool), and is reinventing America one town at a time, from the bottom up.

This is a story of aspiration, liberation, and the triumph of the average person. I could not be more moved or heartened.