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Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,820 ratings  ·  338 reviews
A vivid, surprising portrait of the civic and economic reinvention taking place in America, town by town and generally out of view of the national media. A realistically positive and provocative view of the country between its coasts.

For the last five years, James and Deborah Fallows have been traveling across America in a single-engine prop airplane. Visiting dozens of to
Hardcover, 413 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by Pantheon Books
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 ·  1,820 ratings  ·  338 reviews

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Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
Not compelling. And clunky.
May 14, 2018 rated it liked it
So I loved the Atlantic article in which Fallows lays out the argument of the book, which is probably why the book was disappointing. And all the optimism about America I felt after reading that article is gone now because the book does not really support the thesis that American towns are doing great and are way better off than we think. While I tend to prefer well done ethnographies and think they can often reveal more than just data, this book had neither data or deep ethnographic research. I ...more
May 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
The only part I feel right in commenting on is the Erie, PA chapter because it hits close to home. While the parts devoted to the immigrant and refugee populations were well done, the rest of the chapter failed to get at the heart of both the positives and negatives in Erie. While the decline of industrialization certainly has had a major impact all across Northwestern Pennsylvania, it is not the only issue (and I would argue not even the main issue any longer) creating challenges. Poverty, inca ...more
Dana Stabenow
This was my comfort read this year. Whenever the news got me down I'd pick up this book and read about another American town that was trying to figure things out, from economies in the tank to the opioid epidemic to immigration.

Jim Fallows, whom you will know from his work at The Atlantic, and his wife Deb climb into their Cirrus and spend four years flying around the United States finding communities large (Erie, Pennsylvania, 97,000) and small (Eastport, Maine, 1500) that are in the process of
May 29, 2018 marked it as abandoned-dnf  ·  review of another edition
Edited to fix typos because I should never ever try to write a review from my phone.
I liked the idea of the book. I even like Fallows' magazine work. This, however, grated on me.

Affluent, WASP couple flies their private plane around the country, dropping into apparently random towns. They do a meet-and-greet with the mayor or town marketing person and get the latest dog-and-pony presentation about how the town's "revitalizing," try to blend in at the newest local coffee shop or microbre
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, audiobook, bought
Everyone should read this book. It is full of information and examples on how to change a failing town or city into a prosperous one. It also shows that if you want to make any type of change in this world everyone cannot go into a city and hope to be noticed because very few ever are but going to places where you will truly be needed. Places where your work and skill will not only be appreciated (even if it is a long while after you accomplish whatever goals you set) but where the lives of othe ...more
Jamie Smith
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
I’m not sure what to make of this. It works okay as a travel book; the towns sound interesting, with appealing museums, restaurants, and parks. Travel, however, is of secondary concern to the authors, and they could have skipped their descriptions of the coffee shops and biking trails and just focused on civic development. The book might have been better with a title of something like Successful Strategies for Urban Revitalization, and an editorial focus on analyzing conditions of success and fa ...more
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Our Towns: a 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America was a look at the heartland of America as authors James and Deborah Fallows traversed from mid-size town to mid-size town in their Cirrus single-engine aircraft over a period of four years, interviewing politicians, community and business leaders, city planners, health care providers, educators, students and residents of these diverse communities to determine if there was a common thread throughout the country as they dealt with the i ...more
Peter Tillman
Journalists love bad news: “if it bleeds, it leads.” Conflicts, riots, political shenanigans, Donald Trump’s latest Twitter outrage. The Fallows take a more measured view. Since 2013, he and his wife Deborah have been touring small and mid-size towns and cities in the US that fell on hard times and then bounced back: asking questions, taking notes and reporting back on (mostly) positive stuff. When was the last time you heard news from Sioux Falls SD, Eastport ME or Greenville SC? In their new b ...more
Liz M
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
The premise of this book offers so much potential. Its execution feels like rote memorization of a standard outline, covering the more banal topics of our towns- economic development councils, schools, tech start ups. By town three, each chapter started to sound the same instead of offering details of what makes these towns unique and desirable destinations. With each chapter on repeat, there were few/no transitions, wrapped up with an unnecessary summary that basically offers the outline of wha ...more
Deborah F Topcik
I was hoping this would be Charles Kuraltesq. Traveling around American and really connecting with people. However, I'm not buying a ticket to visit any of the cities/towns or taking out my checkbook to write a check to any of the organizations that were mentioned. It was dryly written and lacked an emotional pull. Maybe pictures would have helped me connect or fewer cities and more in depth stories about the towns and people. ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Let me start with a story.

Back in 2001, I worked for the U.S. Census Bureau. Many people don't know that the Census Bureau does much more than simply count the number of people in the US every ten years. There are ongoing surveys that Americans are asked to participate in. During my years with the Census Bureau, I went to people's homes and asked a list of questions for various government surveys about employment, housing starts, income, health, and many other important topics. The specific data
Wallace Torres
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The first 100 pages of this book grated on me. I felt that the authors were not being critical enough of the towns they were visiting and the reporting seemed to mostly involve going to towns and picking up the local tourism pamphlet. And Jim kept going on and on about microbreweries.

But in time, I realized that to view this as not reporting was to miss the point of the book. The authors are showing the reader how hope (and really, capital investment) can help turn around towns or at least imbue
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My wife borrowed this book from the library. I had no expectations. Honestly, I didn't even have a notion about what this book was going to be about. I found myself intrigued by and invested in the stories unfolding in each town the couple visited. ...more
Mar 14, 2022 rated it really liked it
Birthday gift from Lauren. Story of an elderly couple who fly around the country visiting overlooked places in US. Published post Trump and pre pandemic, it emphasized unity and bipartisanship, presenting examples of public private partnerships in places like Greenville, SC or Allentown, PA. It did seem a bit over optimistic but perhaps that’s my coastal, liberal, elitist pessimism 🤷‍♂️
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was ok
Look at those divergent reviews! What I really want to know is - can I believe that these ppl, almost 'limousine liberal' people, really know anything about the towns that they profile?

Fascinating and tedious, also encouraging and worrisome, all at the same time. Every town they visited is almost the same story of hope... but I'm not sure how many will be successes. A lot of the businesses the new downtowns are attracting aren't sustainable in any uncertain times, much less during this pandemic
Debbie Notkin
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I knew I wanted to read this book when I heard the authors on a podcast. Deb and Jim Fallows spent three years traveling around America in their small plane, looking for small cities and large towns where interesting economic, educational, and artistic things are happening, and they found many.

Make no mistake; this is a very capitalist book. If you can't get behind "public-private partnerships," this is not for you. And I am extremely skeptical about this approach. Nonetheless, the Fallows saw a
Trey Grayson
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book on a couple levels. First, it was a great travel book. I learned a lot about the history and geography of the cities and regions profiled in the book. More importantly, I enjoyed learning about how the profiled towns were trying to make their communities a better place to live. There were many common themes: public-private partnerships, innovative schools, revitalized downtowns, civic leaders. Book could have been a little shorter, but that would have required leaving out som ...more
Neal Lemery
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: community
What makes some small towns in America thriving, energetic, vibrant communities? This book takes on that far-reaching question, as the authors visit a variety of towns across America, talking with the movers and shakers, and asking the hard questions.

This timely book looks at the renaissance going on across small town America, and invites the reader to take a hard look at the reader's small town, to see the good and the bad, and to wonder how the reader's community can move forward.

I'm sharing
Jun 30, 2018 rated it liked it
While attempting to put a pretty face on the state of America's smaller cities I doth feel that they oversimplified the forces that are acting to further separate the populace in the US. Many of the essays relating to particular cities were encouraging but they were stretching the points about local education efforts aiding the economic rejuvenation.

I did enjoy their description of the flights and approaches to the cities.
Paula Hagar
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a big, dense book that took me a long time to read, even though I loved every minute of it. One friend told me it made her fall in love with America again, and I can truly understand why.

I will return with a longer review soon. I have to digest this one for a while.
May 30, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
just what it says on the tin: inspiring stories of urban rejuvenation across America.
Sherry Sharpnack
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
James and Deborah Fallows are journalists. They devoted four years to criss-crossing the United States, investigating “Our Towns” across America to see what is working and what is not at the most basic level of civic government. They logged 100,000+ miles in their small airplane.

The book is interesting enough; the chapters short enough, and chapter divisions often enough that this is a good book to read in short bites, like at bedtime. In fact, if read for too long a time at one sitting, the pr
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a great book all about many of the different towns and cities in the US. I learned a lot about how cities grow, what makes them who they are, what their strengths and weakness are and what we can learn from them all.
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
It has some interesting parts and is generally readable, but this book is frustratingly superficial in its examination of these towns and cities. There are simultaneously big discrepancies from city to city (some entries are more than 20 pages, while some, especially as the book goes on, are 5 pages), and there's a flat, repetitive quality to their impressions of most of the places they go. The authors tend to parrot the boosterish information they get from the local entrepeneurs/mayors/chamber ...more
Sep 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This is an interesting book, written over several years, both before and during the Trump presidency.

I decided to read this book as it was reviewed as showing the strengths of "local America" - and it was called out by some commenters as showing that America was doing well and Trump not so severely effecting everyone.

This book took a long time to read as it is hard to go to several towns or cities in one day.

It is somewhat inspiring in what people are accomplishing in various town and shows to s
Nov 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This travelogue is a non-fiction antidote for the civically depressed who are exhausted by the bad news of national politics. Written by a couple of married journalists who traveled around the country in their tiny plane and reported on this country's up and coming towns, it's optimistic and contains a wealth of information for those looking for bright side, or looking for a new place to live. Who knew that the presence of craft beer breweries were such an accurate sign of an economically-growin ...more
Left Coast Justin
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
Many, many years ago, I began reading and looking forward to Mr. Fallows' writings on his life in Japan, back when Japan was at the peak of its economic importance. These were typically short- to medium-length essays that appeared in The Atlantic or The New Yorker or someplace similar. But this book explains why reading a couple dozen essays back-to-back doesn't make for a good book, in my view -- each chapter could be compelling on its own, but the sheer repetitiveness and lack of any sort of o ...more
Our Towns is both a lucid, detailed examination of the policies, programs, politics, institutions, and public-private partnerships that are working or not working so well in cities large and small all across the United States and a loving, heartfelt snapshot of our neighbors all around the country. James M. Fallows and Deborah Fallows are straightforward, down-to-earth, compassionate lovers of people everywhere and from all walks of life, and they are wonderful guides on this epic journey. If yo ...more
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this journey around my country described by James and Deborah Fallows. I used my laptop to add to my experience and let me see images of the various cities and especially the libraries which were mentioned in such positive terms by the authors. I hope that they continue doing this sort of travel and exploration and write another book about it. It is wonderful to hear that some communities have been able to make very positive changes in their hometowns after they have suffere ...more
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“We quickly noticed traits that we eventually learned to associate with towns on the rise. Residential buildings and new hotels. Multiple restaurants, and a brewery. Viable stores that are not part of a national chain. Corporate headquarters that have moved downtown. A nearby college student base,” 1 likes
“Their value is in giving citizens a sense of how today’s efforts are connected to what happened yesterday and what they hope tomorrow will bring.” 0 likes
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