RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip


Ramble: A Field Guide to the U.S.A., by Eric Peterson


Ramble: A Field Guide to the U.S.A.
Reading Eric Peterson's brand new book Ramble: A Field Guide to the U.S.A. made me feel like a Roman emperor with the weighty decision of whether this was going to be a "thumbs up" (and we would publish a recommendation on the RTA site) or a "thumbs down" (and it would be tossed into the pile of road trip books that are not quite good enough). When he wants to be, Eric Peterson is a gifted travel writer who captures the quintessence of the road trip experience and whose prose far transcends the ordinary. Occasionally, as happens in this new book, he lapses into some version of an "angry young man," using language that would probably make even Jack Kerouac uncomfortable. All that said, this book is enthralling, even if it is also occasionally heavy-handed.

The best writing in the book is the "Author's Epilogue," and I suggest reading this excellent piece first. This masterful essay captures why many of us take road trips and why the magnetic pull of the open road never completely leaves us. The color photography, the road trip maps and cartoon graphics found on virtually every page are excellent, and the colors and images are rich and compelling. Even if you were unable to read English, this book would still grab and hold your attention to the very last page.

Six rather interesting road trips told in Peterson's unorthodox narrative style provide lots of chuckles and even made me laugh out loud. He searches for Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest, looks for aliens in the Rockies, and uncovers human oddities in the Northeast. His commentaries on the rest of the country are similarly quirky and very engaging.

What makes this book a stand-out among road trip guides is Peterson's selection of attractions from across the country. He divides the U.S.A. into seven regions: California, the Pacific Northwest, the Rockies & the Southwest, Texas, the Midwest, New England, and the South. For each of these seven regions he provides vivid details about the best places for grub, lodging, road art, dead people, vice, and people who qualify for his "Ramble RoadTrip Hall of Fame." Again, his selections provide lots of laughs and delightful incentive to get out there and see these things in person.

Interestingly, a sentence that Peterson wrote in the introduction is what ultimately led me to give this book a "thumbs up." He writes, "In the end, the best the writer can hope for is to spark the reader's curiosity to such an extent that he or she actually goes and visits the area described and experiences a similar sense of wonder…" Ramble: A Field Guide to the U.S.A. succeeds superbly as an inspiration and will enrich any roadtripper's adventures, whether they're traveling by armchair or actual wheels on the back roads of America.

Mark Sedenquist
5/7/06

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