Here William Least Heat-Moon, the popular, partly Indian-descended writer who enlightened a lot of people with his 1980s U.S.-travel classic "Blue Highways," goes back on the road in a more up-to-date escapade that includes his wife. He covers territory from his home state to the Southeast to "the West" to the Northeast. The idea this time is that he's not only seeking out interesting but unknown people living happy lives in little-known places, but investigates strange phenomena as well. Heat Moon at his best does this in an engaging way that is often funny and just as often edifying. There is a problem, though. Heat Moon here is more likely to get on his high horse and pick arguments than in "Blue Highways" days. One wonders if the presence of his wife makes him want to thump his chest at strangers to impress her. At one point, regarding an ancient Indian site that's been destroyed in recent decades (Heat Moon steps around the fact that the Indians themselves abandoned it), he subjects a polite, innocent townie to an angry lecture on the preservation of such sacred places (you're not supposed to notice when Heat Moon himself then proposes the purchase and destruction of a Catholic chapel). Since every big writer on earth now seems to have his own blog, wouldn't he do better to post his sermons on one, rather than in the midst of his fine reportorial work? The Indian site story was thought-provoking enough without the inclusion of his jeremiad, which can only serve to put people on the defensive and thus create roadblocks to thought. Even worse is Heat Moon's inability to catch self-contradictions. At one point he gets on his soapbox about "overpopulation," and approvingly quotes an environmentally obsessed woman who declares: "I'm afarid...forced sterilization will become necessary." It is mentioned earlier that this woman's own mother was an escapee from Nazi Germany, where the powers that be would surely have agreed with her views on controlling populations. But neither she nor Heat Moon see the dark irony of this. Nor does Heat Moon, who's appropriately concerned with "the white man's" abuses of Indians, seem to realize that those who sought to destroy Indians were obviously very big on "population control" as well. All in all, though, this is a good read, and an educational one in its better parts.
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