In America: Travels with John Steinbeck by Geert Mak

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In America: Travels with John Steinbeck by Geert Mak

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Buy In America: Travels with John Steinbeck by Geert Mak at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Travel
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: A modern take on a classic travelogue, this retraces Steinbeck's steps some 50 years later to see what, if anything, has changed in America. Highly readable and full of nuggets of information.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099578734

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If someone tells you they're going to write a book, and it will be based on someone else's book, and it's based on a trip they'll do, which that other person also did, you might be left confused about why exactly they would want to do that. Surely more fun to do your own thing, rather than re-trace the steps of someone who's been there, done that? In America Travels with John Steinbeck is this book, based on John Steinbeck's earlier adventure but taking place 50 years later.

This is not the Dutch author's first travel book, and you get the feeling he has a pattern down pat, mixing historical references with modern day observations. I especially enjoyed the prelude to his departure where he managed to paint an illuminating picture of what 1960s America was like which really set the scene for Steinbeck's experiences. Of course, knowing what America is like today was enough for the comparisons to spring up as Mak began to retrace the older author's steps. Fifty years is a long time, and a lot has changed, some things good, others bad. Having an outside perspective helps because here we have a Dutch man writing, perhaps, for a Dutch audience rather than for the Americans who become the subject of some of his dismay. It certainly has a feel of a visitor in a foreign land, with all the wonder this brings.

As he makes his way from state to state he talks of natural disasters that are so well known they can be given an innocuous, human name such as Katrina, with this being all that is needed to recall the devastation. He adds his two cents on Guantanamo, on religion, on Congress. He observes the unique girth of this land's natives – something that never gets old to us on this side of the pond, not matter how often it is repeated.

With a voice akin to that of Bill Bryson, albeit perhaps with more of a European perspective, the pages turn themselves in this book. The delicate balance of travelogue and historical education is perfectly struck, and it reminded me of a long forgotten dream to tour the states and reach out beyond the civilised but well explored coasts to the undiscovered country of the interior.

I really enjoyed joining this journey across America and although some of the socio-political commentary might have been well worn to some, a lot of it was new to me, or at least with a new angle, so I enjoyed broadening my knowledge of these areas as well as of the geography of the country. This book is so readable, and although it's quite long it was never a chore. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending us a copy to review.

If Steinbeck style is your thing, we can also recommend The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber, while those who like their American history in greater detail might like to try The Fourth of July: And the Founding of America by Peter De Bolla. We can also recommend The Evenings: A Winter's Tale by Gerard Reve.

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Buy In America: Travels with John Steinbeck by Geert Mak at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In America: Travels with John Steinbeck by Geert Mak at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy In America: Travels with John Steinbeck by Geert Mak at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In America: Travels with John Steinbeck by Geert Mak at Amazon.com.

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