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American Journeys Paperback – 23 Feb 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (Australia) (23 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 174166621X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1741666212
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,126,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By SUPERSKIB on 25 Aug 2010
Format: Paperback
Don Watson, an Australian academic historian and advisor to Prime Minister Paul Keating, wrote his best selling biography of Keating's premiership when it was over. Then he travelled throughout the USA by train and hire car, with the express purpose of seeing the 'real USA', especially the blue collar workers on Main St, rather than the white collar guys on Wall Street. It is an eye opener.

It is beautifully written, a real page turner, and he pulls no punches about the backwardness of much of the american hinterland, the bigotry that still carries over from the Civil war, the endemic poverty, the racial prejudice and the paranoia about anything even remotely tinged with collectivism. Paradoxically America congregates in the myriad churches, religion is apparently fervently ubiquitous.

The author is admiring of many aspects of America and Americans, the generosity, the total belief in freedom (even when that allows the freedom to be unemployed and broke in the world's richest country); the freedom to wait for hours in the freezing cold for the Amtrak train that can be days late. His admiration is sincere and well meant, but he tells it like it is - 'warts and all'. I loved the book, but I have reservations (no pun) about America.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An Australian view of America 6 July 2010
By Kenneth Walter Simpson - Published on Amazon.com
This a fascinating view of America by an acclaimed Australain writer. Don Watson covers a huge amount of territory during his journeying through 'God's own country', or in his words, 'Evangelical America'. But although religion is uniquely important to the way Americans see themselves, make judgements, and view the world, there are contradictions and paradoxes aplenty. Watson revisits New Orleans during the afternmath of Hurricane Katrina; he journeys to Birmingham Alabama and takes time out to open some of the deep weeping wounds caused by intolerance and bigotry, and which were brought to a head during the Civil Rights Movement, and the peace marches of the 60s - which eventually ended segregation. He spends time reminiscing and paying homage to Martin Luther King. As the former speech writer for a former Prime Minister, Watson has a wide knowledge of political theories, systems and philosophies, referring for instance, to the Civil War, and describing in fascinating detail, the psychological insight of General Sherman. He also relates amost with wonderment and awe, the complex, personality, character and achievements of Abraham Lincoln. It makes one wonder where all the great statesmen have gone - because they are desperately needed today. Watson travels by the somewhat unorthodox and unreliable Amtrak rail system to many strange and fascinating places. He also hires a car and describes the America he sees from the motorist's point of view. Don Watson, along with David Marr, is also a superb Australian essayist.
The Learning Process: Some Creative Impressions
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A fresh and revealing perspective on America. 17 Sep 2010
By Peter Le Breton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I want to start with some personal context. Like the author of this book, I'm also an Australian, and have spent a lot of time in the US, as a student and on business. Some argue that the only people who can truly understand and appreciate the values and nuances of a culture are those who are raised and live in that culture. That would make an outsider's take on America limited or trivial.

An opposing idea is that those who grow up in a culture are blind to that culture, which has become part of their worldview and about which they are largely unconscious. This is like taking for granted the air we breathe, or the fish presumably being unaware of the water that surrounds it. If this analogy holds water, Americans are more or less incapable of seeing American society with any degree of perspective or objectivity (whatever that word means in our postmodern world).

Yet, as de Tocqueville demonstrated with his insightful observations on America in the 1830s, outsiders can sometimes bring fresh, critical and creative perspectives to bear on (to them) foreign cultures. Australian sociologist and social critic, Don Watson, brings this gift to Americans and others with this book.

For example, Watson appreciates and illuminates the many paradoxes and complexities of American society. The failure of America, the richest nation on earth, to provided universal basic health care or a livable minimum wage for its citizens -- whereas much less wealthy liberal democracies manage to do so, or nearly so -- exemplifies this point. Watson, like de Tocqueville, does not condemn or judge. In fact, he is simultaneously in awe, as many outsiders are, of American freedoms and achievements, and bewildered by American provincialism and paranoia.

If you are an American, you probably wont agree with all of Watson's observations, but I would be surprised if your attitudes and feelings towards your own country are not enriched. Whether you are an American or an "alien" -- as your bureaucratic language revealing labels non-Americans -- this book will likely make you laugh and think.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
An outsider's view of America 7 Nov 2012
By Andrew W. Johns - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Reading travel narratives is often a powerful way to experience an unfamiliar place or to learn about people and cultures in remote areas. But they can also be vehicles for self-reflection, allowing us to see ourselves through the eyes of an outside traveler in our midst. For an American reader, this book serves the second role. The author, an Australian, traveled widely by train and car around the United States during the second half of the previous decade, and this volume provides his observations and impressions of America as it wages its long "War on Terror."

With its heavy emphasis on the many negative aspects of American society and culture, including racism, poverty and provincialism, this book is was somewhat uncomfortable read for this American. It is always difficult to acknowledge our own failings, and often it takes an outsider to shed light on them. Watson also explores the impacts of religion (especially fundamentalist religion) on America, as well as the divisive nature of the current political conflicts. These observations are helpful in showing Americans how we are seen from the outside, which in allows us to understand some of the criticism that is directed at our country.

While Watson's observations largely seem valid, his almost complete focus on the negative observations does wear on the reader. It is true that America is far from a perfect society, but there are still many things here to celebrate, and while he does mention some of them from time to time, this book feels like it is overwhelming focused elsewhere. This does not make for a cheery read, and leaves the reader wondering what solutions might exist. And because his observations are filtered through his own views, many American who hold different values are likely to find some of his positions here at least slightly offensive. But for a reader with an open mind, this does present an opportunity to explore the problems that face our country, as they are viewed by a visitor.
Bemused Wanderer 17 Jan 2013
By Bryan Dwyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Don Watson reflects on John Steinbeck's 1960 Travels With Charley in which the Nobel prize winner reports on his attempt to discover the soul of America in troubled times. Sharing many of Steinbeck's values, Watson explores the Christian fundamentalists, the patriots, the racists, the corporate raiders, the aspiring middle class, the underclass, all against the backdrop of a magnificent landscape. He finds that a traveller might conclude from his interactions with so many admirable people that America is a tolerant, liberal democracy, but the evidence of chaos, vested interest and elitism is everywhere. Watson finds a nation of vast complexity, some contradiction and ubiquitous hope. Thoughtful and observant, witty and erudite, Watson's book will leave you wanting to make your own journeys in America.
A curious blend... 20 Aug 2012
By Michael - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I had three memories of Don Watson when I stumbled onto this book in a second hand book shop.

The first was from December 10, 1992, when then Prime Minister Paul Keating delivered the 'Redfern Address" to launch the International Year for the World's Indigenous People. (See [...] Don Watson was on the PM's staff and doubtlessly contributed to the speech - who owns the final words is, in the sense of their legacy irrelevant. It was a speech that shook the nation.

The second was "Recollection of A Bleeding Heart - A Portrait Of Paul Keating PM - a far reaching review of the final years of Labor's Hawke then Keating Government. Good political analysis, but a question mark over the extent to which Watson needed to delve into Keatings floundering marriage.

The third was when I took a team of eight or so people off-line for a major project for six months to produce a report. I bought Watson's Death Sentences : How Cliches, Weasel Words and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language and left it sitting on a shared work space where we'd come together as fate allowed. I never mentioned the book, but everyone read it, joked about it, and without any direction from me we eliminated all the bullshit wankery that public sector reports usually engage in.

So the chance to buy American Journeys for a cover price of $8 - with Watson's signature inside - was too good an opportunity to pass over.

Watson reminds me of a Leonard Cohen song from Live In London where he desribes America as the 'cradle of the best and the worst'. It is a journey around America, but by the end of the book I didn't feel that I'd arrived anywhere. Lots of names, lots of cute customs, lots of commentary but to what point?

I don't know if it was Watson or Keating who wrote the Redfern Speech - my guess is that they both had a hand in it. But there was a fire in that speech, they ebbed to a soft glow in DIary of a Bleeding Heart and by Death Senatance had all but died, apart from its undoubted intellectual prowess.Not his finest work, but anyone with an interest in how US hegemony is shaping our world should find this a worthwhile tome to dip into from time to time.
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