David Nichols has done an outstanding job introducing and editing Ernie Pyle's 1930's newspaper travel columns. As a child growing up in small-town Ohio in the 1960's, I sensed this idealized concept of a lost American past, but had to piece it together to try to form the complete picture.
In addition to the expected glorification of small-town and rural life, Pyle describes the progress of the 1930's, when the late twentieth century coexisted with the nineteenth century in the United States. He describes economic growth, technological and industrial progress, new transportation, increased travel, better communications, new services, consumer goods, government solutions, parks, nature, regional cultures and preparation for global conflict.
On the other hand, Pyle provides a balanced portrait of life as it was really lived across the 48 states. There is rural and urban poverty, the struggle for existence, farming failures, the dust bowl, economic risks and failures, political corruption, tenements, wasted lives, deep prejudices, pollution, boom town squalor, substance abuse, urban anonymity and anomie, poor hygiene, industrial accidents, provincialism and small minds.
Pyle's stories are simply wonderful. My favorites include the decline of Put-in-Bay, Ohio as a vacation spot, the future of 5,000 population Las Vegas, the preferred use of the term "Spanish-American" in Laredo and Albuquerque, the role of Dr. George Washington Carver, the settling of Carmel, CA by rich dilettantes, the creation of the Allison Engine plant in Indianapolis and the preparation for war at Pearl Harbor.