Having reported on some of the world's most violent, least understood regions in his bestsellers Balkan Ghosts and The Ends of the Earth, Robert Kaplan now returns to his native land, the United States of America. Traveling, like Tocqueville and John Gunther before him, through a political and cultural landscape in transition, Kaplan reveals a nation shedding a familiar identity as it assumes a radically new one.
An Empire Wilderness opens in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the first white settlers moved into Indian country and where Manifest Destiny was born. In a world whose future conflicts can barely be imagined, it is also the place where the army trains its men to fight the next war. "A nostalgic view of the United States is deliberately cultivated here," Kaplan writes, "as if to bind the uncertain future to a reliable past."
From Fort Leavenworth, Kaplan travels west to the great cities of the heartland--to St. Louis, once a glorious shipping center expected to outshine imperial Rome and now touted, with its desolate inner city and miles of suburban gated communities, as "the most average American city." Kaplan continues west to Omaha; down through California; north from Mexico, across Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas; up to Montana and Canada, and back through Oregon.
He visits Mexican border settlements and dust-blown county sheriffs' offices, Indian reservations and nuclear bomb plants, cattle ranches in the Oklahoma Panhandle, glacier-mantled forests in the Pacific Northwest, swanky postsuburban sprawls and grim bus terminals, and comes, at last, to the great battlefield at Vicksburg, Mississippi, where an earlier generation of Americans gave their lives for their vision of an American future. But what, if anything, he asks, will today's Americans fight and die for?
At Vicksburg Kaplan contemplates the new America through which he has just traveled--an America of sharply polarized communities that draws its population from pools of talent far beyond its borders; an America where the distance between winners and losers grows exponentially as corporations assume gov-ernment functions and the wealthy find themselves more closely linked to their business associates in India and China than to their poorer neighbors a few miles away; an America where old loyalties and allegiances are vanishing and new ones are only beginning to emerge. The new America he found is in the pages of this book. Kaplan gives a precise and chilling vision of how the most successful nation the world has ever known is entering the final, and highly uncertain, phase of its history.
Having spent more than two decades reporting on ethnic strife and political upheaval in far-flung regions of the world, Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts), turns to his own backyard, trekking across the American West, Mexico and western Canada to map out America's shifting socio-political landscape at the turn of the millennium. The nation, he argues, is losing its identity as one union and splintering, like the Balkanized areas of the globe that have long captivated Kaplan, into a mosaic of different regions with sometimes conflicting cultural identities. In crossing the American Plains and Rocky Mountains, Kaplan sees the growth of city-states and the growing income gap as leading to class-stratified, post-urban pods, in which government does little to improve the living conditions of the poor. The rising Hispanic population in the Southwest has fostered "binational" cities, he says, while the shared interests of America's Pacific Northwest and British Columbia is creating Cascadia, a self-contained region predicated on the eventual breakup of Canada. Kaplan's fluid, razor-sharp travelogue is peppered with references--to Gibbon, the Founding Fathers, ancient Greek and Civil War history--and powerful descriptions of the landscape (a Greyhound bus in New Mexico is "a prison van transporting people from one urban poverty zone to another"; the Arizona desert resembles "the glazed surface of a red earthen jar"; the Pacific Northwest "a magical frontier" of "brooding cathedral-dark forests" and place-names suggesting "an icy clean, mathematical perfection"). As dystopian as it is soberly prescient, Kaplan's vision of 21st-century America will command the attention of readers from all corners of our increasingly decentralized continent. Editor, Jason Epstein; agent, Brandt & Brandt.