From the embaattled newsrooms of small town newspapers to the pornography film sets of the Los Angeles basin, from the check-out lanes of Dollar General to the holy sites of Mormonism, from the nation’s highest peaks to the razed remains of a cherished home, like a latter-day Woody Guthrie, Tom Zoellner takes to the highways and byways of a vast land in search of the soul of its people.
... a fascinating investigation into American places and themes; metaphors for our country ... Documenting his manic travels risks Zoellner portraying himself as America's Everyman — part cowboy, part Johnny Appleseed. He avoids this fate with insightful and well-crafted prose, along with occasional introspection, including questioning his own arrogance ... Aside from the pleasure of sharing his discoveries from an armchair, readers are offered nuggets of wisdom ... Woody Guthrie could have written the soundtrack to The National Road ... an enthralling journey that proves his point.
If George Packer and John McPhee collaborated on a collection that examined contemporary American life, while simultaneously exhibiting an intense feeling for the country's vast landscape, it might look something like Tom Zoellner's stimulating The National Road ... The National Road's subjects are diverse and unfailingly interesting. No matter how well readers think they may know the United States, it's guaranteed there will be something here to surprise, delight or unsettle them.
Zoellner wonders how an increasingly fractured nation of such disparate lands and peoples remains united, however tenuously, in a consensus informed by the Constitution. The author’s diverse, penetrating essays, some previously published, can only answer that question in part, but his effort is valiant, deeply moral, and often moving, based on observations gleaned from 30 years of crisscrossing the country, frequently by car. Zoellner grasps all the touchstones and knows all too well the challenges and depredations, be they cultural or ecological ... Zoellner exposes naiveté, foolishness, and malfeasance with equal clarity, but he is evenhanded and sometimes produces a piece of sardonic humor, haunting beauty, or melancholy that pulsates on the page. He is both a first-rate reporter with years of newspaper and magazine work behind him and a skilled stylist who makes you want to come back for more ... Highly recommended. Zoellner will acquaint you with byways, and mores, you never knew existed.