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Authors: William R. Leach

Country of Exiles

BOOK: Country of Exiles
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Acclaim for
William Leach’

Country of Exiles

“Perhaps William Leach did not intend to write a call to arms, but
Country of Exiles
resounds like nothing else. Leach warns that in losing our sense of place we are losing the things that bind us together. With that, we stand to lose ourselves.”


“William Leach rides across America like Henry Thoreau with a bad case of road rage. Wise, passionate, and profoundly disturbing,
Country of Exiles
should be read by anyone who cares about the American landscape—before it’s too late.”

—Tony Horwitz, author of
Confederates in the Attic

“Leach’s book is required reading for thinking people who have ever opposed the building of a mall or a massive housing complex, only to be told with sneering condescension that they were backward or provincial and hopelessly frightened of change.”

—The Journal News
(Putnam, NY)

“This book is very important. It ought to be read by tens of thousands. As everything that is important that is written or said, it reminds rather than instructs men and women of great and grave matters that they may already know but that they do not understand sufficiently until reading this book.”

—John Lukacs, author of
The Hitler of History

“An ambitious and absorbing reflection.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Clearly written, marked by sobriety and responsible scholarship, free of hyperbole and nostalgia,
Country of Exiles
sparkles with fresh and penetrating insights into the deepening cultural crisis of our time.”

—Eugene D. Genovese, author of
Roll, Jordan, Roll

“Country of Exiles
is thought-provoking reading.”

—The Register-Herald

“Leach is on to something here. He shows how the decay began, and why it continues.”

—Decatur Daily

“A provocative discussion of how the globalized economy has loosened the ties that bind us,
Country of Exiles
is part reporting, part polemic, always interesting.”

—Joan Didion

William Leach

Country of Exiles

William Leach is the author of two previous books,
True Love and Perfect Union: The Feminist Reform of Sex and Society
Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture
, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the 1993 Hoover Prize awarded by the Hoover Presidential Library. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He is currently at work on a study of butterflies. He lives in Carmel, New York.


Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise
of a New American Culture

True Love and Perfect Union: The Feminist Reform
of Sex and Society


Copyright © 1999 by William Leach

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1999.

Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Pantheon edition as follows:
Leach, William, 1944–
Country of exiles : the destruction of place in American life /
William Leach.
p.     cm.
1. United States—Civilization—1970– 2. United States—
Social conditions—1980– 3. United States—Economic conditions—1981–
4. National characteristics, American. 5. Place (Philosophy) I. Title.
E169.12.L39     1999
973.92—dc21     98-29599

eISBN: 978-0-307-76051-7


In Memory of Christopher Lasch

Who and what were these strangers who, it seemed, did not know the meaning of rest and respite, knew neither measure nor limits?… What was the restlessness which continually drove them on, like some curse, to new works and enterprises of which no one could see the end?

The Bridge over the Drina




CONCLUSION: Veblen Revisited



ears ago I told an historian friend of mine that I thought historians had an obligation to write about the present, especially when that present seemed to mark a radical departure from the past. Given their knowledge of the past, who would understand better what was going on in the present? Well, I took my own naive advice and realized very quickly how far more attractive—and safer—it was to dwell on the past, rather than on the present. This book has been the hardest one I have ever written. I wrote it out of a need that could not be suppressed. It is a testimony to what I think has happened to America in the past twenty years.


any people in business, university, and government have helped me with this study, including, in no particular order, Jim Pinkelman, Christopher Jocks, Christopher Arellano, Bill Withuhn, Bruce Lambert, Mark Prisloe, Mary Young, Henry Moon, Donald Lotz, Dimitri Rallis, David Melmar, Terry Kranz, Craig Lundsdorf, Elaine Quiver, John Mohawk, Ed Lee, Scott E. Bennett, Robert Arnold, Michael Tubridy, Steven Staiger, Charles Elias, Mark Juergensmeyer, Joshua Freeman, David Noble, Paul Donnelly, Margo Anderson, Myron Weiner, Robert Bonnette, Daniel Stein, Larry Weiers, Barry Bluestone, and Paul F. Richardson. I thank Jameson Doig and Gerhardt Muller for reading
chapter 1
on highways and gateways; both scholars protected me from many errors of fact and interpretation. Mary Furner, Ann Fabian, Charles Blackmar, Nell Lasch, Peter Dimock, and Peter Agree looked at the entire manuscript, bringing to bear on it much skill and wisdom and saving me from much embarrassment, for which I thank
them. I owe thanks to Georges Borchardt, Jeannette Hopkins, Ed Cohen, and Grace McVeigh.

Not all the people above agreed with what I say in this book, but I appreciated their help nonetheless.

My editor, Dan Frank, has just the right blend of patience and brains; he deserves my thanks and my respect. And once again, I am grateful to Elizabeth Blackmar, who suffered constant rewrites, all the while telling me that this book justified the trouble: without her, it would not have been written.

Veblen in Silicon Valley

n 1920 Thorstein Veblen, America’s most acerbic economist, traveled across the United States, from Manhattan to northern California, and returned to a spot that meant a great deal to him—an isolated cabin on a ridge in a mountain range, bordered by the town of Pescadero and the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Santa Clara Valley on the east. The place was not too far from Stanford University, where Veblen had taught just before World War I. He had built the cabin himself, out of wood left from an old chicken coop owned by the family of Leland Stanford. He had carried it up the mountain in a horse-drawn wagon, along the muddiest of winding routes shrouded in fog.

In the few years he taught at Stanford, Veblen often took refuge in this hideaway. He recovered there (according to a friend, R. L. Duffus, in a later reminiscence of Veblen) a bond with the earth and even with the Norwegian-immigrant village in Minnesota where he moved as a boy with his family, after living in Wisconsin.
If the cabin existed today it would
be entangled in the progeny of Silicon Valley, with its colossal homes and tens of thousands of software millionaires, most enriched by the stock market boom on Wall Street. The university, too, has been surrounded by such suburbs as Atherton and Los Altos Hills, where billionaire venture capitalists have erected their gated palaces, their private golf courses, and their own airports, a denouement that even Veblen, champion of engineers but nemesis of bankers, might have found Veblenian.

In Veblen’s day the whole region was mostly rural. His cabin stood on a crest that had, according to Duffus, “an untamed quality,” “a survival of something that hadn’t surrendered to the presence of men.”
Framed by second-growth redwoods, it was high enough up for Veblen to see a vista of rolling forested hills as well as the emerald-blue Pacific itself; Veblen so loved this dwelling that he acquired legal possession of it and of the land on which it stood. But when he visited from Manhattan in 1920, he learned that a careless real estate agent had sold the cabin as part of a larger sale of the adjacent property. This knowledge, which later proved mistaken (the property had in fact been
from sale by one of his friends), infuriated Veblen. To him the sale stood for much that was wrong in American society and, above all, in American business enterprise. Veblen despised how many businessmen seemed bent on transforming everything, and land above all, into vendible commodities, how they tended to measure everything from labor to art by its market value, and how they pushed even the most rooted thing into a floating state so that it might be recirculated.

BOOK: Country of Exiles
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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