400 pages, Basic Books, ISBN-13: 978-0786710362
There are some books that are just so informative that no library should be without them; some books that are so well written that it is a positive joy to read the text; and there are some people who have such a way of looking at the world that you feel comforted just by hearing them speak. This, then, is Alistair Cooke and his book, Alistair Cooke’s America, in a nutshell.
No stiff upper lip Brit here; not at all. As a transplanted British journalist, Alistair Cooke studied in America’s Ivy League universities and then returned to America as a BBC correspondent, and the experience seems to have so deeply affected and impressed him that he stayed on and became a citizen. Alistair Cooke captured the spirit of the United States simply and eloquently in his writings as he sought to expose the heart and feeling of the people that drove this great country towards ever-higher aspirations of the human experience. Cooke’s masterpiece is a classical telling of a story of grandeur without fawning, of warts without lambasting. It is a grand overview rather than a list of presidents, wars and laws. He captures the essence of what is important, as if he wished to give a concise guide to his compatriots in England of what fascinates him about this land that he eventually settled as did many in his story. It captures what America and Americans do very well and would be an excellent guide to any person who wants to understand us. With so many Americans ignorant of their own history it would be an even better guide to today’s colleges or high schools to make them understand the land of their birth and how it came to be what it is.
This book is over 40 years old as I write this (July 15th, 2014) and at the time that he wrote this Cooke was in his 27th year of his Letter from America Broadcast for the BBC. When you finish this book you will find yourself wanting more. Sadly, Mr. Cooke is no longer with us, but his words still are.