|1 May 2000
Tonight I finished Robert Kaplan's book An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future. It's Kaplan's finest work that I've read -- no small feat considering he wrote Balkan Ghosts and The Ends of the Earth, two stellar books about some of the dicier places in the world, how they got that way, and what it means. This time, he turns his considerable efforts to figuring out America by -- what else -- travelling the country, talking to people, and making the same sorts of observations he makes about third-world countries in his other works, the quality of which turned me onto the guy in the first place. What Kaplan finds is an America not necessarily in decline, but certainly in transition -- perhaps from a nation-state with a strong national government to a truly multicultural, worldly state composed of city-state pods with little need for an all-powerful national government. He also documents a disturbing side of America -- such as the movement of the affluent away from those who are not, creating in essence highly secure, isolated pods of achievers, distinct from places like East St. Louis and other decaying and dangerous inner city areas that he describes vividly and sympathetically, and points out how they parallel, in some ways, balkan cultures because of the issue of race. Fascinating.
I'm exhausted, and can't really do justice to Kaplan's fine effort tonight. This is definitely a book for those concerned about America's future -- and present -- to pick up and read. I don't always agree with Kaplan's conclusions, but he raises questions based on his observations that nobody else is raising right now. Many of his observations are unique, actually. I'd like this book to be the subject of a discussion group some night -- West Alabama Icehouse fodder? Or perhaps coffeeshop fodder. Definitely fodder for the mind.
Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited