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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charlie was there, January 25, 2006
I shouldn't be the least surprised that I liked "Mentioned in Dispatches" so much. I'd read and reviewed Stevenson's first collection of essays "Letters of Transit," a few years back and enthusiastically gifted copies to friends and family. I'd read a good many of the essays in Mentioned before the thing came out and even had the great luck to publish one of them in the literary magazine I edited. So count me as one `familiar with the writer's work.' That said, I was still completely knocked-out by "Mentioned in Dispatches" and read the book in one go-something I never do. You'll hear this over and over from those that have read this book but it won't make it any less true: reading these essays is indeed like having a good, long talk with someone who knows their stuff. This is a terrific book by one of America's best writers.

Stevenson sets off to places that light up his imagination and curiosities; he knows a lot a about where he's going because more often than not he's read a good bit about the place before getting there. Later after a visit he'll read some more stuff. Then I think he winnows away the junk as he reflects on the place and the knowledge he's come to. At least that's my thinking. There's a lot of territory covered in Mentioned: boyhood trips to Virginia inspire a piece on the early history of the country (one of my favorites); there's a good one on Serbia and Montenegro; a bike trip through Poland with his wife is particularly moving. Not all the essays are `travel essays'- Stevenson doesn't need to travel anywhere to properly reintroduce America to Jim Bouton in "Field of Schemes"; a funny riff on Hillary Clinton's chameleon-like I've always been a Yankee fan pose is another non-travel favorite-that one's called "It Takes a Stadium." "The Dead Presidents' Society" is a good one too-it's a Snap Out Of It Folks essay-and addresses the 2000 election fiasco. (Stevenson, typically considering both sides of the proverbial coin, eschews the shrillness of the Bush and Gore positions by announcing in the piece, and then detailing, that `Fixing elections is the cornerstone of the American political tradition.' Amen.)

Some of the action in Mentioned goes down in places that I am not the least bit interested in going to-Croatia, Vienna, Serbia and Montenegro are not, and probably will never be, on my must-get-to list. The fun of reading Stevenson is less about the places he visits and their considerable intrigue, and more about watching a gifted writer using all his chops to nudge a strange place-using thoughtful references to literature and history-out into the light. He writes you a city like a top shelf fiction writer writes a player in a story-with nuance, authority and compassion. I like it that Stevenson is allergic to sentimentality, especially when it comes to his visits to war regions. There is real emotion in this book though. Read what I think is the earliest essay in the bunch, "The Fall of the Kansas City Hyatt" (`I was there by accident, not by design')-it's a tragedy told so well and true that in its heartbreak-his heartbreak too-Stevenson manages to show the higher virtues of our fellow brothers and sisters in their quietest actions. It was my favorite.

In one essay Stevenson explains that as a youngster `Was you there Charlie?' was a common retort to any family member who `ventured an opinion without having visited the country in question.' The thoughtfulness, perspicacity and insights are all earned in each essay in Mentioned in Dispatches. Charlie was there, and he's more than happy to tell you what he saw.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A literary treat, January 10, 2006
This review is from: Mentioned in Dispatches: The Travel Essays of an Expatriate American (Hardcover)
Matt Stevenson has been a travel friend and tour guide through his book

"Letters in Transit" and now again in his new book"Mentioned in

Dispatches. This is more than a travel book. Stevenson has such an in depth knowledge of history that I feel like I'm drinking from a fire hose as he leads me through "Vienna at Twilight" and "War's End in Okinawa."

He has immersed himself in literature and shares excerpts and

quotes with us in each of his essays. Combine this with his own literary style and you have a treat for readers.

His eulogy of Michael Huberman, not only includes quotes from King Lear but his unique phrasing: "Everyone here had those delightful conversations with Michael-a white burgundy of friendship."

Yes, heroes are those who are "mentioned in dispatches." Stevenson is a literary hero.
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Mentioned in Dispatches: The Travel Essays of an Expatriate American
Mentioned in Dispatches: The Travel Essays of an Expatriate American by Matthew Mills Stevenson (Hardcover - November 1, 2005)
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