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Old Glory (Picador Books)
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2000
Few writers have quite such an unerring eye for the idea of America as Jonathan Raban, and his best books have been about this topic. In this, he pursues his childhood fascination with the Mississippi, the river of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, by chartering a small boat to sail the entire navigable length of the river: all the way from Minneapolis down to the Delta and New Orleans. This is a formidable task, and the words of one person at the outset - "You gotta respect the Mississippi or she'll do you in" - recur as Raban discovers the unpredictability, moodswings, and deceptiveness of the genuine river.
Along the way, as the river alternately bewitches, intrigues and frightens him, he makes numerous stops and meets a great many ordinary Americans. Raban seems to have a remarkable knack for drawing deep-rooted beliefs out of those he encounters on the journey, and his great gift here is for recreating these people on the page, as real as if you'd met them yourself. The book was first written in 1980, and the sense of wounded pride in the wake of Vietnam, Watergate, the seizure of the US Embassy in revolutionary Iran, and the others disasters of the 1970s, is a constant theme throughout the book. Raban catalogues the idea of America in the minds of its citizens and its often bitter clash with reality, in much the same way as he contrasts the reality of the Mississippi with the romantic idea in his head. He travels through cities, small towns and tiny burgs, finds time for a short and sad love affair in St Louis, and in one of the highlights of the entire book watches a fascinating mayoral election in racially-divided Memphis.
This is one of Raban's best, even if his acute eye sometimes observes people in the same dispassionate way that a scientist looks at microbes through a microscope. The old adage that "America's fate is not to have an ideology but to be one" has rarely had a better exponent.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 March 2011
Excellent read; though you may take issue (as he sometimes does himself) with some of the narrator's reactions and statements the prose is a joy and the content as mesmerising as the river itself.
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on 17 April 2014
This is my first Jonathan Raban book. How could I not have discovered him before? I love his writing so much, I feel he writes for me! His dry humour, his acute descriptions of people, the way he brings a landscape to life in your mind, all so vivid and startlingly authentic. Never have I come across an author who has so inspired me to write to them. I want to tell him what an exceptional writer he is. I have bought six more of his books and am busy working through them one by one at an enjoyable pace. The kind of books I will keep for a lifetime. Thank you so much.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2011
......about the quality of the paper that it's printed on. It looks and feels like very rough toilet paper and there were nasty marks on the edges of the pages.
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on 18 October 2010
Very enjoyable. A good contrast to William Least Heat Moon's River Horse (who went UP the Missouri amongst other rivers..).
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2012
Probably the only book I have read several times. Jonathan Rabans powerful writing style seeps into your veins and stimulates
your every emotion. He is a complicated character, often private but also incredibly gregarious at times. He seems to have an ability to weave himself into the fabric of his surroundings absorbing every detail like a stain, which he then crafts into descriptive writing. The theme is a brave adventure ,undertaken to satisfy his child hood fascination with the mighty Mississippi . He meets many people visiting towns and cities in order to find the grass roots of the structures and the inhabitants. The boat trip he undertakes down the great river in a very small craft is often described as foolish by his critics, but I suspect in the end it is they who are fools. His writing will take you there and show you everything. When he states " the rain came down in quills" you can feel it on your back. Once I had read this book I devoured everything Raban has written and was rarely disappointed .i would also highly recommend .Passage To Juneau: A Sea and Its Meaning
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 June 2009
This man is soo good that I buy second hand copies on Amazon Marketplace and send them to all my friends.I am an unconditional fan§
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 June 2014
Loquacious, evocative travel writing - Raban at his best. As he travels down the Mississippi in his skiff we get a snapshot of America in the early eighties. The romance of the big river, not to mention the dangers he faces are well described here. Captures your interest on page one and sustains it till the end. Not to be missed.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 2013
Quite simply, this is amongst the very finest books I've read, and I have read a few.
Raban writes in an easy but evocative style and anyone who has travelled alone will find points of recognition as his boat leads him to encounter odd, but quirky wholesome (and less wholesome ) folk.
Read it once; you'll be hooked.
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