Our Town

By: James Fallows, Deborah Fallows

Goodreads link.

Start Date: 2018-12-24

End Date: 2019-01-02

Points about this book:

  • I got to know about Our Towns  from reading Bloomberg Opinion columns, if I remember right. Probably Noah Smith’s columns in specific. And it went on to the TBR queue.
  • I have immense envy for the ability of American journalists to learn how to fly, buy a plane, and then just fly about going to places. Golden country, golden age for the Fallowses.
  • This book is, in a way, the opposite of Chris Arnade’s twitter feed (I see he’s now deleted everything) / reporting / photography. Arnade went around the USA photographing people in despairs, and claimed that McDonalds was where all social or civic interaction took place. The Fallowses travel around the USA but visit the places where there’s lots of hope and optimism, and claim that public libraries are the real town squares of America. Bhai wah.
  • On the above point, since Arnade focuses on despair, and the Fallowses on hope, I suppose Arnade is in the Neil Gaiman tradition and the Fallowses are on the side of virtue, per DMC.
  • And if I had to strawman Arnade, maybe he would get righteously angry at the Fallowses focusing on ‘front row kids’.
  • A onetime friend (who has gotten hyperwoke and snippy) did get very angry at Arnade once for his categorisation of ‘front row kids’. After reading Our Towns, I sympathise with that friend, because one should be on the side of the front row kids if they are the ones with either hope or a plan, or probably both.
  • I was amused at the anti-Tolstoy formulation: all unsuccessful towns have a sameness in their failure, but every success story is individual and hard to replicate.
  • The point that light aircraft views give you insights that neither being on the road, nor being in a jetliner can provide spoke to me; possibly because I’ve made a parallel observation that what you get of a neighbourhood or city from being on foot, on a cycle, or in a car, is very different, and all are important.
  • It was amusing to see praise for Erik Prince and Betsy de Vos, but their using power plant waste hot water to heat their town’s sidewalks was so ingenious. The praise is well deserved.
  • The story of the American Prairie Reserve is amazing and inspiring. Private wildlife sanctuaries for everyone!
  • The story of how Republicans are happy to vote for local taxes but are also convinced that state or national taxes will be wasted on the wrong projects or people may reflect tribalism. But it may also reflect the principal-agent problem. And with human beings, is there really any way to differentiate the two?


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