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American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville Paperback – April 10, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
I totally agree with the good criticism written by William Grimes "A Modern-Day Tocqueville Finds an Uncertain America", February 4, 2006 in the New-York Times. I quote an extract of this relevant analysis.
"Mr. Lévy is, in some ways, a good traveling companion. He takes a keen interest in American politics, and he loves American literature. His voyage of discovery owes as much to Jack Kerouac or Walt Whitman as it does to Tocqueville, a writer whom, he notes in his preface, he barely knew before setting out. But because he lives almost entirely inside his head, he does a remarkably poor job at communicating the sights, sounds and smells of American life. There are many moments, riding in the car with him, that you want to tell him to shut up for five minutes and take a good look at what's out the window.
He is lazy. Tocqueville, faced with the bewildering logic of American politics and American habits, rolled up his sleeves and tried to account for what he saw. Mr. Lévy dashes off a few lines, shrugs his shoulders and tosses out rhetorical questions. Some are long and involved, others quite brief, like the "Who knows ?" that caps his musings on the inner life of President Bush. At least half of the provocative questions that make up "American Vertigo" should have been written down as homework assignments for the author rather than lobbed in the face of the reader. He does not bother to chase down elusive facts, like who finances Medicaid. Instead, he wraps them in an "I'm told," or "it's said that."
Whatever else they disagree on, French intellectuals - of which Bernard-Henri Lévy is certainly one (his initials BHL are often compared in France to a fashion brand, and he prefers shirts that can't be buttoned to turtleneck sweaters) - seem nevertheless destined to share one thing in common: at some or other point in their careers they are compelled to try and 'understand' America. This is the pretext for Lévy's new book, a fast-paced jog through the US that aims to sample the patchwork that makes up the fauna (the political animals, Amish people, strippers, etc.) and the flora (usually restricted to natural wonders like the Space Needle, megachurches and certain well-known prisons) of our American culture, or American Vertigo. Lévy travels to America precisely because he doesn't understand it.Read more ›
"You meet Sharon Stone and John Kerry and a woman who once weighed 488 pounds and an obese couple carrying rifles, but there's nobody here whom you recognize. In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food. You've lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don't own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title."
".... every 10 pages or so, Lévy walks into a wall. About Old Glory, for example. Someone has told him about the rules for proper handling of the flag, and from these (the flag must not be allowed to touch the ground, must be disposed of by burning) he has invented an American flag fetish, a national obsession, a cult of flag worship." MYTimes
As far I can tell, Lévy is a "self-styled" philosopher and a boring writer, except to the French who treat him like a film star. It makes you wonder about the French. I have known some who are fine people; but this man makes me recall the English indictment: "France; a lovely country. Too bad about the people." Too bad their taste in writers isn't as good as their taste in food and fashion!
What can you expect from this book? Don't go in hoping for all of the answers. No one person, American or not, understands all of the nuances of this broad and diverse country (Whitman of the US: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes"). But I consider this perspective from an outsider commenting on our culture, a la Tocqueville, to be an invaluable insightful piece of journalistic writing. He sets out on a cross-country ramble, with the opinions and misconceptions of his countrymen surely ringing in his ears, and reports with admirable honesty having been shocked by how many of his preconceived notions were utterly shattered. True he is still set, and couldn't possibly budge (what would be the use to us?) from his French-ness. And so his itinerary is surely not one an American would choose in pursuit of cultural enlightenment.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Although I did not agree with everything in it, I truly enjoyed this book.
The very fact that Levy is NOT an American and has "no dog in the fight" helps... Read more
If you like a simple, disarmingly spontaneous yet intricate and precisely crafted tale, where the author gives full rein to his imagination while sticking meticulously to the facts... Read morePublished 14 months ago by David Knapp
It is an ambitious project indeed to follow in Tocqueville's footsteps and "update" the definitive portrait of the American self from the 19th century. Read morePublished on August 20, 2012 by M. Knapke
It seems no matter how anything is presented or appears before him, he makes up his mind that it's a certain way. Read morePublished on July 23, 2012 by Joe
The title of Bertrand-Henri Lévy's "American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of de Tocqueville" is both accurate and deceiving. Read morePublished on April 24, 2012 by Peter Korchnak
First, let me introduce myself: I am French, and I have been living in the USA for five years. I traveled in the USA to discover the beauty of some places (e.g. Read morePublished on September 15, 2011 by Ouistiti
....with the sole intention of wiping my keister with it!
Read Garrison Keillor's review in the New York Times. Read more
A lawyer learns quickly that a short brief is difficult to write. A long, wordy brief is easy in comparison. Read morePublished on June 15, 2011 by Betsy Lee Bohannon
Levy is obviously one of the brilliant minds of our time and his insights into what makes our country great are valuable. Read morePublished on November 1, 2010 by Jordan Braunstein