The Geography Ninja

ATWin80 – American Vertigo by Bernard-Henri Levy

Following in the footsteps of Tocqueville, Levy’s goal was to provide us with an update on “Democracy in America”. While he does provide us with an ability to see our political system and our prison system (among other things) from the point of view of an outsider, his Eurocentric and liberal bias really gets in the way of any true revelations. In the end, his inability to clearly present an unbiased view of America left me more annoyed than enlightened.

No, it’s not just that American Vertigo presents Americans in a less than perfect light. I can deal with that. After all, I picked this book up precisely because I was interested in how America really appears to the outside world. What I cannot abide, however, is authors who string together multiple questions as if they are attempting some type of rhetorical dialogue…
Really? Doesn’t that seem like lazy writing? Aren’t we reading your book to gain your perspective and insight? Shouldn’t you give us some, rather than bombarding us with questions?

Yeah, like that. At one point, I believe there are no less than five questions lined up end to end.

What is far worse, however, is that his questions are really the only direct form of prose he has. The rest of his writing is vague, obscure, and I hate to say – a bit sloppy. His vocabulary is huge, which doesn’t help, but it is more his style of writing that is the problem. He writes episodically – short, choppy passages describing a place or an event. He’ll recount discussions with people without really introducing them – as if he assumes you’ll automatically know who it is. Maybe we should – many of them are famous politicians, after all. But, his loose descriptions of people make it hard to discern even when he shifts to another person. If I had read this book in 2007, perhaps it would have been easier – with these events and people fresh in my mind. Somehow, I doubt it.

As an instructional tool, I think it might be possible to select a few passages – mainly to show students what NOT to do.  How to avoid bias, how to identify it, etc.  There are a few passages which might provide some interesting discussion fodder.  But, overall, I think this book fails as a resource for a geo classroom at any level.