Review: Blue Highways: A journey into America by William Least Heat Moon

Year published: 1982
Genre: Travelogue
Setting & time: USA, 1978

This book often makes it onto lists of best or favourite or recommended travelogues, and seems set to become a classic of the genre. Much like Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, to which it has been likened by some reviewers, it provides a snapshot of small-town USA as it was at one point in time.

In the wake of a divorce and the loss of his job, which precipitated an existential crisis, Moon set out to travel around America by the small roads - the ones traditionally marked with blue on old highway maps. The journey became one of discovery, not just of himself, but of small-town America. He especially sought out small towns with unusual names and asked around until he found people willing to tell him how they got their names, some of which makes for fascinating reading. He was always on the lookout for interesting people to talk to, and recorded the conversations which made it possible for him to quote them verbatim in the book (although some seem too apt to the purpose of the journey to be true).

While this book is in some ways similar to Travels with Charley, I also think it has certain things in common with Larry McMurtry's Roads which I
previously reviewed. While at first sight the two may seem like diametrical opposites, Roads being about fast travel along fast roads and Blue Highways about slow travel along slow roads, they actually have quite a lot in common, e.g. both being the results of a personal crises and both being fueled by a love of driving, of travelling, and of America. I see the two as companion pieces of sorts and recommend reading them back to back.

Rating: A modern classic of the travel genre and an interesting snapshot of small-town USA in the 1970s. 4+ stars.


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