REVIEW by Willard Manus
Edward McPherson takes a long, thoughtful look at 21st-century USA in
THE HISTORY OF THE FUTURE-and what he sees will make you wince.
McPhersons book, whose subtitle is American Essays,
focuses on eight cities and sites around the country, commencing with
Dallas and finishing in Californias Mojave Desert, where a man named
Robert Vicino heads a company that is building a network of underground
bunkers meant to withstand the apocalypse, and then selling berths in
them to the average citizen.
McPherson, who has written fiction as well as journalism, has a unique
style which uses shifting viewpoints to good effect. The portrait of his
hometown of Dallas, for example, not only includes the citys archaeology,
history, architecture and mythology (Big Tex), but its pop
image as well (formed by the TV series Dallas, the marketing
of the Dallas Cowboys as Americas Team, and the glitzy
merchandising of the Neiman Marcus brand).
The business of Dallas has always been business, McPherson
says. A town of crude, cotton, fashion, and banking. Pressure, time
and decay make oil-but the irony, of course, is that there is no
oil beneath Dallas. The city is surrounded by wells in nearly every direction,
but at the center it is empty, like a donut.
also the city we associate with JFKs assassination. Kennedys
body is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but Dallas bears the wound,
he writes. Eighty per cent of the country blamed the people of Dallas
for Kennedys death...Dallasites felt profound embarrassment and
shame. But Dallas was never really a City of Hate, he insists. In
1957, six years before the Kennedy assassination, Atlanta, a city
of similar size, had 17 per cent more murders than Dallas, 50 percent
more aggressive assaults, and more than twice the number of thefts over
McPhersons in-depth reportage distinguishes him as a writer. He
does due diligence on all of his subjects-not just Dallas but Gettysburg,
St. Louis (where he teaches college), and North Dakotas Bakken oil
boom, to name but a few. He spends lots of time at each placetwo
years in North Dakota, for exampleresearching, interviewing and
observing from every possible angle. The result is journalism of the highest
ordera book that courageously confronts the darkness and nihilism
which are eroding the freedom and democracy America once stood for.