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Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  4,172 ratings  ·  693 reviews
One of the most acclaimed travel writers of our time turns his unflinching eye on an American South too often overlooked

Paul Theroux has spent fifty years crossing the globe, adventuring in the exotic, seeking the rich history and folklore of the far away. Now, for the first time, in his tenth travel book, Theroux explores a piece of America — the Deep South. He finds the
Hardcover, 441 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published September 3rd 2015)
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I'm NOT a politically correct person [not a chance!], not by a LONG SHOT, and my politics are --> very little left of center…more

I'm NOT a politically correct person [not a chance!], not by a LONG SHOT, and my politics are --> very little left of center <-- (according to my adult kids.)

I've not read "The Deep South", but the man seems humble enough to me in the Rick Steves interview/podcast regarding his experience in the research for the book:
Kate Not very much in Louisiana. It has Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas. Its a wonderful book

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Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Only on page 60, but this, from page 51, is a good example of the problem I'm having with this book. "Most of the Southerners I encountered had no more than a nodding acquaintance with books, and that gave them either an exaggerated respect for authorship or an utter indifference to it. When there was an exception, and I came across a handful, often in the unlikeliest places, the reader was passionate, with a house full of books, like an isolated bookworm in a Chekhov story."

Theroux seems to ha
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
In the summer months I find myself repeatedly on a quest to find that one travelogue that isn't just a travel book but one that also informs readers of history and sociology of a region. Veteran travel writer Paul Theroux has been brought to my attention multiple times in our ongoing Pepys Project Diary in the group Reading for Pleasure here on Goodreads. Theroux has been writing both travel books and fiction since the appearance of his Great Railway Bazaar in 1975, yet I had never read one of h ...more
Elyse  Walters
Aug 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
I'm a Paul Theroux fan! I adore the guy. I like his fiction and his travel books.

Paul Theroux didn't need to visit the airports for this journey. He got in in car and drove
from his Cape Cod home. He takes a several trips back and forth ... spreading out over more than a years time. I had an adventure right along side of Theroux... enjoying the people -
places - history - and tidbits I learned along the way.

I've been to The Middle East... Europe...lived in Israel for almost a year... but I've ne
May 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: travel
What a curmudgeon travel writer. I once promised myself that I would never read another Theroux book after his “Oceania” where he hated every island except for Hawaii. Still, there is enough information in the second half of this book to make it worthwhile reading.

Where did Theroux get the idea that everyone in the south are evangelicals, dumb, lazy, drug addicts, racists, gun junkies, and didn’t read books, but if they did they had huge libraries in their homes? I will admit that there are a lo
Diane S ☔
Aug 27, 2015 rated it liked it
I am going to put off writing a full review of this because while Theroux did point out some injustices happening still in the South today, I am bothered by some of the assumptions he made about Southerners in general. Though I have visited the south many times, I don't believe that unless one has actuslly lived in the place it can be fairly described, no matter how many people with which one talks. I have another book South Toward Home: Adventures and Misadventures in my Native Land, by someone ...more
Diane in Australia
I really liked this book, for several reasons. Paul Theroux was 74 years old when this was published, and it was SO good to see him enjoying himself so much. After 50 years of traipsing all over the globe, he more than deserves to 'put his feet up and set a spell'. One thing that really made these trips special was that he drove himself, instead of relying on public transport, as he has often done in the past. He fell in love with the whole 'road trip' scenario. I wholeheartedly agree. There's n ...more
Aug 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Paul Theroux has spent fifty years crossing the globe, adventuring in the exotic, seeking the rich history and folklore of the far away. Now, for the first time, in his tenth travel book, Theroux explores a piece of America — the Deep South. He finds there a paradoxical place, full of incomparable music, unparalleled cuisine, and yet also some of the nation’s worst schools, housing, and unemployment rates. It’s these parts of the South, s
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
An irritating and self-indulgent ramble through the Southern states of the USA. Theroux is patronising to both black and white communities, ignorant of the complex history of race relations in the South, and flippantly dismissive of many of the people he meets. Lecherous, rude, self-aggrandising (there are frequent references to his long and glorious literary career) this book gets two stars for Steve McCurry’s superb photographs.

My broader point is that this type of historically uninformed trav
Feb 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was my first Paul Theroux. I was impressed, and I will read more by the author.

I chose this because of the theme - the South. I like reading Southern literature. The author is not only well traveled but also well read. The book covers racism and poverty in the South today, historical background and a thorough study of Southern literature and its authors. The book does not cover anything to do with urban centers or coastal regions. Nothing about Hurricane Katrina, not a word about Florida, n
Andrew Smith
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, non-fiction
At the start of this book Theroux talks about the mock ordeal described by many travel writers in documenting their travels through his native country. But the roads are so good in America, he laments, how could a journey to a place at the far end of his own particular road be anything other than simple and trouble free? And to all intents it proves to be just that – in fact, he manages to snooze through the one true ordeal during his time in the Deep South, when twisters make their invasive way ...more
James Hartley
Nov 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a great book, more of a thesis, really, in which the author, a seasoned travel writer, journeys through the poor, mostly black, regions of the southern United States. Anyone coming in hoping for stories of Elvis or the blues might be disappointed (although Theroux does visit Tupelo and meets one of BB King´s ex-wives). No, this write up of a series of Theroux´s travels by car from his home in the north of the country is more concerned with the neglect of the region and its current malais ...more
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
When I think of the South in the USA I think of big white planation houses like Tara in Gone With the Wind with gorgeous fields and countryside. But here we are presented with a more confronting and harsh reality. The South whilst known for it's hospitality, authors like Truman Capote, William Faulkner, fried chicken, corn bread and cotton fields also has a dark history of racism, lynchings, the Klu Klux Klan and of course slavery and civil unrest. Unfortunately in the Deep South, Theroux, disco ...more
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing

This take on the American South is informed by the author’s extensive travels outside the US and his background in literature. This is modest, one man travel. There are no reviews of Michelin rated hotels, tours of old plantations or interviews with celebrity chefs. Instead, you read of churches, gun shows, unsung eating places and no reservations motels. He has informed observations for these aspects of life and travel. He interviews people he happens to meet and those who are suggested to him
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Theroux starts off Deep South by proving that great American writers like John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Melville and Thoreau lied through their teeth in their travel books. They never went to the places they claimed to have been in their travel books and made up a lot of stuff. Their irritations with travelling in America were banal according to Theroux because nothing in the world offers more freedom to the traveller than the open American roads and highways. He proceeds to grumble about how air ...more
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was looking for a book like this. When I read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I was unmoved by the philosophy, but I loved the road trip. Pirsig’s writing came alive when he described the scenery, the people, and the places he passed through. The small towns especially interested me: they were vibrant, hospitable, and safe, and got me to thinking about how much has changed since then. On one of the ZAMM websites I found that Pirsig started his trip in July of ‘68, and ...more
"That seemed to be the theme in the Deep South: kindness, generosity, a welcome. I had found it often in my traveling life in the wider world, but I found so much more of it here, that I kept going, because the good will was like an embrace. Yes, there is a haunted substratum of darkness in Southern life, and though it pulses through many interactions, it takes a long while to perceive it and even longer to understand." p. 10

I have lived in Virginia for more than thirty years. I have learned to
After five decades spent exploring and writing about the far-flung and exotic places of the world, Paul Theroux has looked to his home country for inspiration. America has always been a place of contrasts and there is none as stark as the differences between the rest of America and the Deep South. Unlike his other journeys, this is one difference; he can climb in his car and drive there. So he does, leaving his home and traveling to the area over the course of four seasons. Each time he catches ...more
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Dec 16, 2019 rated it did not like it
I love taking road trips. I also like writing about my road trips. Furthermore I enjoy reading other people's stories about their road trips. Or at least I have always imagined I would.

I read Travels With Charley because I was charmed by the idea of a cross country trip with a dog. I have taken road trips with my parrot Hercule Parroh. However, the problem with Steinbeck is that he simply does not care for people all that much. Consequently, none of the people came across as likable or believa
Oct 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"People Who Never Hit a Lick at a Snake and They Expect Help" I love that line, something somebody said to the author during his travels in the deep south, it is almost like poetry and makes little sense.

This is one of the densest books I have ever read, there is so much information and experience crammed into this book it amazes me how it all fits in so well. I was expecting this to be a travel book but it is so much more than that, you get a history lesson on slavery and the battles for freedo
William Koon
Nov 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
I have come to think that Paul Theroux is the English language’s greatest travel writer. Nothing in his travel writing has ever disappointed me. I particularly felt the heart break of his last work Last Train to Zona Verde, when he effectively said, “I quit! Everything is too messed up.”

Now in a lengthy work he takes on the American South. It is nowhere near as successful as any of his work that has preceded it.. Seemingly he goes in with preconceptions and polishes them, repeatedly. Simply sta
Sep 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Theroux went on a road trip through the deep south, over a multi-seasonal period, concentrating on the black rural poor, their woebegone communities, their churches, their troubles and yes, hope. He also seems to have not passed a gun shop or gun show he didn't visit. Consequently, his vision of the South, is to my mind, a southerner, somewhat distorted.

Yes, racism is still a reality in the south, with lasting consequences, even today. Yes, the economy of the rural south is in dire straights, a
I had never heard of Theroux before this book appeared on our local library’s new acquisitions list, so I had no preconceived notions about the book or the writer. The draw for me was the pitch claiming it to be a travelogue through an area that is usually stereotyped, either by heavily romanticizing it or deeply demonizing it. Theroux claimed he wanted to experience the area as he had the foreign countries he has visited and written about, as a new experience in an unknown land. As it turns out ...more
good for theroux fans, a fairly broad treatment of southern usa, some highlights for me being the black modern farm(er) portraits and his unflinching characterizations of many parts of usa being no better, and in many ways, much worse, than many places in africa. worse because there is very little long term traditions or cultures to take comfort in, and practically no help from govt or philanthropy, and well shit, usa IS one of the richest most modern countries in world, cept when youre poor.
i d
Dec 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-writing
Paul Theroux travels around the Southern States, mainly Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, drawing analogies between poverty there and poverty he has witnessed in Africa and India. It's a thoughtful account, if a bit repetitive at times. It seems the US administration ignores the deprivation on its own doorstep in favour of pumping millions of dollars into more glamorous projects in third world countries. The U.K. is guilty of the same thing. There is a short essay / interlude in which ...more
Feb 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book helps to understand what is going on in the US, nowadays. A lot of us, Europeans, are most familiar with the Eastern and Western Coast cities of the US, but few of us know what is going on in e.g. the Midwest and the South. This book provides a picture of the 'Deep South'. Paul Theroux has visited Southern states during the four seasons of the year, thereby avoiding large cities. Instead, we get an insight in what is happening in little towns and communities. At first, it seems a littl ...more
Mikey B.
Page 197 (my book)
As was so often the case, driving up a country road in the South was driving into the shadowy past.

I found this a remarkable travel book and journey through the rural Southern U.S. – namely the states of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The author encounters a vast array of Southerners with a variety of outlooks and all this leads to many compelling conversations. He attends church services, food and music festivals, gun shows... But genera
Aug 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC radio 4 - Book of the Week
Paul Theroux's account of his car journeys through America's southern states is timely, and abridged for radio by Katrin Williams:

1. He's in Tusacaloona, in a car park, thinking about going to church. In a vehicle beside him sits Lucille, all black silk and lacey sleeves - "You lost, baby?" Her welcoming words are typical of the South..

2. In Greensboro he meets the impressive Rev. Eugene Lyles, aged 79, who has his own church, his own barber shop and runs the l
Jan 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: never-finished
I tried, I really tried. Theroux is one of my auto-buys, auto-reads. He holds such a special, tingly place in my heart being the author who introduced me to the whole entire travel fiction genre.

But this? It just made me feel uncomfortable and kinda squicky. This definitely flirted with some issues with racism and porn poverty. I mean, come on. At one point he actually lists the first names of every child attending daycare in a predominantly black town. There is no fucking reason to do that tha
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well-written, insightful, shocking.
Julie  Durnell
Jul 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, southern
This was quite an eye-opener for me. Extremely well-written and engaging with stories of the people Mr. Theroux met while traveling through the South during the four seasons of a year.
"On a single visit I would not have seen this, but over the course of a year, in four seasons, the true condition of the town had become apparent. This was not a trip about my having a good meal or a bad meal, or my laboring toward a destination in the old travel-book manner. It may have seemed to some people I m
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Mockingbird -Did anyone else dislike this book? 5 32 May 30, 2018 10:12AM  

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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more

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Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
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“Reading made me a traveler; travel sent me back to books.” 8 likes
“One of the grandest creations of the New South was a mythical concept of an Old South.” What people take to be an epoch was a matter of mere decades of pretension and an exercise in irrational nostalgia.” 4 likes
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