My lovely wife Judy gave me a copy of AMERICANA: DISPATCHES FROM THE NEW FRONTIER (2004) by Hampton Sides this past Christmas. I finished reading it the other evening and it's a good one. This was the first book by Sides that I've read but I will certainly be reading more of his work in the days ahead. I have on my shelves copies of GHOST SOLDIERS and BLOOD AND THUNDER and I'm on the lookout for other titles by him.
The book is a collection of thirty magazine articles published over several years in various titles, all of which showcase various people, places and things in America and all brought vividly to life by Sides' considerable skill as a storyteller and observer of the human condition. Some pieces are humorous while others are dead serious. Some are short, others quite lengthy. But they're all good and well worth your reading time.
The book begins with a portrait of skateboard icon Tony Hawk and ends with the story of the first U.S. Marine to die in combat in Iraq in 2003. The centerpiece (and best entry) of the collection is " A Murder in Falkner", a riveting, lengthy true crime narrative whose extra word count allows Sides plenty of room to fully explore a murder case in the American South. Other standouts include a harrowing account of 9/11 by three survivors who were at Ground Zero and a reunion of American servicemen who were held captive by the Japanese in the Philippines in WWII.
AMERICANA is a grand and glorious road trip across our great and ever evolving country with a master tour guide behind the wheel. Much has changed in the years since Sides first recorded these snapshots of unique times, people and places. But every piece holds up well, with each one being entertaining, informative and compelling. I was exposed to a lot of things I knew nothing about while reading AMERICANA but I'm glad to have had the chance to learn about them. That's the mark of a good read in my book.