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Blue Highways: A Journey into America Paperback – October 19, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

First published in 1982, William Least Heat-Moon's account of his journey along the back roads of the United States (marked with the color blue on old highway maps) has become something of a classic. When he loses his job and his wife on the same cold February day, he is struck by inspiration: "A man who couldn't make things go right could at least go. He could quit trying to get out of the way of life. Chuck routine. Live the real jeopardy of circumstance. It was a question of dignity."

Driving cross-country in a van named Ghost Dancing, Heat-Moon (the name the Sioux give to the moon of midsummer nights) meets up with all manner of folk, from a man in Grayville, Illinois, "whose cap told me what fertilizer he used" to Scott Chisholm, "a Canadian citizen ... [who] had lived in this country longer than in Canada and liked the United States but wouldn't admit it for fear of having to pay off bets he made years earlier when he first 'came over' that the U.S. is a place no Canadian could ever love." Accompanied by his photographs, Heat-Moon's literary portraits of ordinary Americans should not be merely read, but savored. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Reading Blue Highways made me go back and look at Jack Kerouac's On the Road to see if Mr. Least Heat-Moon does as well. He does far better . . . Maybe twice a year I read a book I wish were even longer. This is one of them. I could wish Mr. Least Heat-Moon had driven every blue highway in America." (The New York Times)

"Blue Highways ia a splended book, outstanding Americana, which I rank above the next best thing preceding it in the genre, John Steinbeck's Travel with Charley." (The Wall Street Journal)

"Better than Kerouac." (The Chicago Sun-Times) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st Back Bay pbk. ed edition (October 19, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780316353298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316353298
  • ASIN: 0316353299
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (343 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Trogdon, who writes under the name of William Least Heat-Moon, was born of English-Irish-Osage ancestry in Kansas City, Missouri. He holds a bachelor's degree in photojournalism and a doctorate in English from the University of Missouri. He is the author of Blue Highways; Prairyerth, an epic evocation of the American tallgrass prairie country; and River-Horse, an account of his travels along America's interior waterways. His most recent book, Roads to Quoz, was published in 2008 and is available now as a trade paper edition.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 91 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on July 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
This past spring I took a circular, nationwide roadtrip of my own very similar to the one William Least Heat-Moon takes in this great book. Though my trip was a little shorter in length and a lot shorter in duration, I can definitely identify with Heat-Moon's efforts at self-discovery on the back roads of America. The most interesting aspect of this book is Heat-Moon's use of his Indian heritage and frame of mind while interpreting the various persons and regional cultures he comes across. Christians may object to his criticisms of certain religious tenets, especially when he freeloads off some devout Christians for food and lodging a few times during the trip. Also beware of Heat-Moon's habit of quoting Walt Whitman practically every five pages, while he spends far too much space on certain people and places. But otherwise we have a highly compelling travelogue of the backwaters and isolated small town denizens of unknown America, as well as many insights into the soul of the writer, and possibly the reader if he/she is so inclined. Also, the journey described took place back in 1978, and while certain descriptions and narratives are outdated, Heat-Moon was already lamenting the disintegration of America's small town charm by the fast-food/convenience subculture, which was just getting started at that time. Little did he know how much worse it would get! This book, along with the works of Kerouac and Steinbeck, belongs with the great American roadtrip classics.
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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
William Least Heat Moon may be one of the greatest writers of our time. First encountered his work in the New Yorker, which excerpted chapters from Blue Highways. I then (of course) had to read the book, which is an account of his journey in an old van, outfitted for sleeping/living, to see the real United States using only the small roads (which are marked on the map in blue -- hence the title). The events that caused him to put his usual life on hold, and take up this oddyssey, will strike a responsive chord for many readers who have ever wanted to stop the world and step back in time.
His experiences, the people he meets, the conversations they enjoy, make for an extraordinary insight into America.
His writing sings in the way that the old story tellers did...weaving a web that captures and captivates you until you finish the book. And then you don't stop until you've read all of his books! (Wish he'd write some more). I recommend this book highly for personal reading and for gifts.
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74 of 77 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
I ended up buying 17 copies of Blue Highways before I finally got all the way to the end of it, because I kept giving the one I was reading to friends that I knew would enjoy it as much as I did. Each year since, re-reading Blue Highways melts away the hibernation chill of winter by rekindled the fire of wanderlust and the need to eat some "ho-made pie" at a four-calendar cafe. My own "blue highway" pinacle was a memorable lunch with my college roommate during a two-lane cross-country trip where we found ourselves in a booth in a diner named Grandma's where the menu was what Grandma told us she had cooked for the day and we knew we had hit blue highway heaven when she scolded my friend, smacked his hand with a big wooden spoon and told him he couldn't have both potatoes and macaroni and cheese, that he had to eat a vegetable or she wouldn't let him have any pie for dessert. I caught her winking at the trucker at the counter, and he said that even though he hated vegetables himself, he had eaten them there every day for 20 years because Grandma's pies were worth it. He was right.
Here's how Blue Highways reveals the secret to eating well on the road: "There is one almost infallible way to find honest food at just prices in blue-highway America: count the wall calendars in a cafe.
No calendar: Same as an interstate pit stop. One Calendar: Preprocessed food assembled in New Jersey. Two calendars: Only if fish trophies present. Three calendars: Can't miss on the farm-boy breakfasts. Four calendars: Try the ho-made pie too. Five calendars: Keep it under your hat, or they'll franchise.
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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Terrence E. Martau on May 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways is referred to by many as a "cult classic". If so, it's a shame this book is not better known. It is 1978 and William Least Heat-Moon is 38 years old. Upon the near-simultaneous loss of his college teaching job and his marriage, he needs to get out of town, to leave places of sadness, futility and routine, to clear his mind and renew his soul. William leaves Missouri driving a '75 Econoline that he also intends to live in for the next several months; the truck has been named "Ghost Dancing". He has determined that he will drive only the blue highways, the old map color for single-lane rural highways and county roads, the roads that lead to all the small places in America, lost and forgotten by time, faded in economic or historic significance. He will travel and look around and listen, meet new people and learn new things and new ways of thinking. Most of all he will think, taking an inward journey as well.

Born of English-Irish and Osage ancestry, William Least Heat-Moon also has an Anglo name. He writes, "I have other names: Buck, once a slur...also Bill Trogdon." He explains his Osage identity humbly: "My father calls himself Heat Moon, my elder brother Little Heat-Moon. I, coming last, am therefore Least. It has been a long lesson of a name to learn." With that we begin.

Experts categorize this book as "travel literature". It is a travel book, for William does travel 13,000 miles across the United States and briefly through Ontario. He describes places, converses with people, learns or reviews history. As may be expected, the places are common and strange, mundane and magical. Some are pleasing and peaceful; others evoke indignance in William, unpleasantness and judgment.
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