An Empire Wilderness

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

AN EMPIRE WILDERNESS: TRAVELS INTO AMERICA’S FUTURE is a book in the spirit of Alexis de Tocqueville’s DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA (1835): Part travelogue and part social commentary, it concerns itself with what American culture is and what it is likely to become.

A contributing editor for ATLANTIC MONTHLY, Robert D. Kaplan takes a intimate, fresh look at the American West. During two trips in the mid-1990’s, he talked to people in thirteen states, Mexico, and British Columbia who represent major ethnic groups and a wide variety of backgrounds. The mosaic of interviews, often complemented by historical and sociological studies, reveals trends that Kaplan thinks will transform twenty-first century America as a whole.

First, a growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots encourages the former to move out of cities into “posturban pods” segregated by class, economics, or race, leaving behind the poor in a dysfunctional hub. Second, people, feeling a growing sense of “placelessness,” spend less time in community involvement than in the global culture fed to them via telecommunications and computer networks.

Most important, this technological connectedness encourages the wealthy and well educated to look beyond borders. The Southwest, for example, is growing closer to northern Mexico and Washington-Oregon to British Columbia. Global culture favors those who possess class or educational qualifications to own and use its technology. The unqualified are doomed to poverty, as well-educated immigrants are hired to fill the best jobs.

With regions looking outward rather than inward to Washington, D.C., the federal government may become little more than a defense contractor and disaster relief agency. The arrangement, Kaplan intimates somewhat gloomily, would not be the United States as late-twentieth century citizens know it.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, August, 1998, p. 1956.

Commentary. CVI, November, 1998, p. 65.

Insight on the News. XIV, October 19, 1998, p. 36.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 4, 1998, p. 3.

The Nation. CCLXVI, November 16, 1998, p. 42.

National Review. L, December 7, 1998, p. 63.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, September 6, 1998, p. 4.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, August 24, 1998, p. 39.

The Wall Street Journal. August 27, 1998, p. A12.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, October 18, 1998, p. 4.