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'A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow': An American Hitchhiking Odyssey Hardcover – July 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The somewhat offputting title refers to the three-month journey Brookes made across America in 1973 at the age of 20. Describing how he traveled from east to west, touching into Canada and then returning home, the author offers a valid perspective on what has changed over 25 years. A professor, essayist on National Public Radio, and author (e.g., Catching My Breath: An Asthmatic Explores His Illness), Brookes is more than qualified to write an account of this sort. However, he lacks the vital art of sharing his emotions and capturing and entertaining the reader so skillfully demonstrated by the likes of Dervla Murphy, Tim Cahill, and Bill Bryson. Since this is a National Geographic title, one expects high-caliber, exciting, and engaging writing. What one gets instead is rather disappointing; there is an underlying sense that this book is the completion of an assignment rather than a work of passion. An optional purchase.AJo-Anne Mary Benson, Osgoode, Ont.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In 1973, Brookes, then a British student, spent three months hitchhiking across America, dazzled by a girl from Iowa he had met at Oxford. In 1998, Brookes, now a writer, teacher, and longtime Vermonter, decides to re-create that experience and hitchhike to the same places again. He's not crazy: he periodically takes trains or buses and carries a cell phone in his daughter's sock. He tracks a few of the people and most of the places he encountered the first time, but this is no self-referential wallowing. He's not interested in reliving the past but in illuminating the present, and he carries both a cheerful lack of anxiety and a disarming lack of pretense. In crisp, short chapters, he recounts conversations with the folks who pick him up and his responses to the places he goes: a gospel church in San Francisco; a previous wife in Seattle; a desolate reservation in South Dakota. He finds kindness and gratitude, and he clearly has those within himself as well. GraceAnne A. DeCandido
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Adventure Press
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic (July 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0792276833
  • ISBN-13: 978-0792276838
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,412,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in London, England, to poor but honest parents who loved going for long walks, preferably in the rain. After discovering at college that I liked not only pickled onions but even Marmite, I knew it was time to leave while I still could. I have lived in Vermont since 1980, though to be honest I did start a cricket club.
I'm the director of the Professional Writing Program at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, a longtime essayist for National Public Radio and the author of all kinds of things, some of which show up elsewhere on Amazon.
The serious part of me founded Writers Without Borders, a non-profit dedicated to teaching writing skills to public health workers in the developing world, and the Endangered Alphabets project, in which I draw attention to the importance of cultural preservation by carving texts in endangered languages in beautiful pieces of wood.
The ambitious part of me created the Champlain College Publishing Initiative, a project to engage undergraduates in the process of publishing in the twenty-first century.
The active part of me plays a lot of soccer and tennis. In my spare time I wonder about potential military applications for Marmite.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By sally barry on August 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I brought this book with me on a long car trip and found it ideal reading, and very interesting and well-written. The author hitchhikes (mostly) across the U.S.A. after doing same some 20 years ago in his hippie days. He has some anxiety but finds his fears overblown. (Truthfully, this kind of book really, really, really makes one want to chuck everything, the house, the mate, the kids, the job, and just hit the open road. I mean this.) He meets kind and interesting people, too. I would compare this book to the writings of Bill Bryson, though without Bryson's humor. I only wish the book was longer!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Matt Hetling on September 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Tim Brookes embarks on a hitchiking odyssey across the United States, and his varied and colorful experiences result in much introspection on himself and America.

There are some elements to the circumstances that limit our ability to immerse ourselves in his experience, but it stands as an interesting portrait of the US.

Brookes is at his best when he is introducing us to some random Samaritan; we meet dozens of characters and they are all interesting without embellishment. For this, I credit Brookes' ability to find the human story that makes each individual someone who merits out feelings and car. The quirky jobs, personalities, and circumstances of each teach us about the odd tapestry that makes up our country.

We also get to see some interesting places through a drifter's eyes, and Brookes displays a capacity to find the interesting details about a place and relate them to us in an entertaining manner.

That credit being given, this isn't one of my favorite books of this type, for several reasons. For one, Brookes is too self-aware to give us information about himself without it being wrapped in layers of filtration. He attempts to give us an honest picture of himself, but his overthought self-analysis just makes that impossible. And unfortunately ,he engages in self-analysis fairly often, and every time he does the book lags.

There's also the fact that Brookes embarked on this adventure specifically for the purpose of chronicling it, and this takes away from the authentic experience that Brookes is trying to have. Most hitchhikers have a purpose-- they are going somewhere, or they are running away from something, or both. They have limited resources that prevent them from taking a more conventional means of travel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tony Hughes on September 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
To summarise, an entertaining read over about 2 weeks worth of pre-sleep reading. As a fan of road-trip-esque books, I was looking forward to this jaunt around the country. Brooks has an entertaining style of writing that, for the most part, was clear and understandable. His research and fact-finding is a little ropey, naming Keystone, Wyoming as a chapter when in fact Keystone is in South Dakota for example.
Sure he didn't exactl hitch all the way but give the guy credit, he sure did hitch a lot of the way. If you can get past the errors, you'll be left with an enjoyable read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Lacek on November 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I love this sort of light reading. I just finished the book in 2010 and I found it a satisfying read. It is true the author did "fudge" a bit when he claimed to hitchhike across America. He did hitchhike, but not all the way. But he politely asks us to forgive him and if you have enjoyed his accounts, it isn't a hard thing to do. A word of caution, do not pick up this book expecting to be impressed or awed. A simple nod of the head and a chuckle here and there will do.

I think Tim Brooks did deliver a good read. The chapters are short quick snap shots of his experience traveling cross country.
I picked it up because I LOVED Steinbeck's Travels with Charlie. (dated but truly a worthy read). Tim Brooks is not Steinbeck but he is a good writer. He kept even the most dire circumstances light and fast reading. He pulls you in, he gives you something to chew on and occasionally the outcome is utterly surprising. Hang in there through the midwest, it gets better. No particular highlights but he does meet some interesting (and some not so interesting) folks. I enjoyed his history account of hitchhiking at the end as well. Fun read. You won't be disappointed if you do not set your sites too high.

As a side note, I thought one other reviewer's comment concerning the fear that surrounds hitchhiking is on target. This country has succumb to so many fear enhancing tactics. Too many good things that are honestly helpful to others get swept away in the torrent of those storming on a crusade to make America a safer place for one and all. Such a shame. At least Tim had the guts to challenge the hysteria and provide us with a good read to boot. Good for Tim.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. H. Bayliss on February 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I did enjoy many parts of this account of the author's adventures hitchhiking (and driving with his photographer) across the U.S. I have a few criticisms though: 1 -- he spends chapters talking about the great photos the photographer is supposedly taking, but the photo section only has a measly 13! What happened to all the photos????? 2 -- there are many grammatical and typographical mistakes. In fact, the reader before me must have been bothered because he/she circled all of them. 3 -- after a while, it is easy to lose interest in his account. I'm not trying to nitpick, as I did like the author's dry wit and detailed recounting of American cities and sights. However, this book is definitely not as interesting as many other travel/adventure books I've read. It doesn't try to be pretentious or draw grand conclusions about life (thank goodness) which makes it more palatable, but it's still not a great travel book. The prose kind of dries up in the second half.
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