The 'Our Towns' Saga, on CBS Sunday Morning

Endpapers from 'Our Towns,' with map of cities visited, color-coded by year. (Pantheon publishers)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

On Tuesday of this coming week, May 8, the book that my wife, Deb, and I have been working on for many years will officially be published.

It’s called Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America, and it’s the five-years-removed result of a post I put on the site back in 2013, asking readers for suggestions of smaller cities that were coping with dislocations of some sort—economic, political, demographic, environmental.

In the next few weeks, Deb and I will be on the road, at events in various parts of the country. You can see an interactive, updated list here. The first public event will be on Tuesday night, May 8, at the Brooklyn Public Library, in a discussion with James Bennet—known to the world now as editorial page editor of The New York Times, and known to us both as a long-time friend and as the person who made this project possible, during his time as editor-in-chief here at The Atlantic. (More info on the event here.) After that we’ll be in Washington D.C.; Greenville, South Carolina; Knoxville; Seattle; San Francisco, Palo Alto; Los Angeles; Kansas City; Louisville; Boston; and beyond.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be reporting news related to our American reinvention theme (as previewed in this article in the current issue). As we did during our years on the road, I’ll be reporting here on reader reaction, updates, pentimenti, press reactions pro and con, and other news on the theme that really engages us: how these promising local-level innovations across the United States can gain momentum, attention, coherence, and influence.

For now, and to start out, here’s a segment from reporter Lee Cowan, producer Mark Hudspeth, and their colleagues at CBS Sunday Morning that aired this morning, which I thought did a superb job of distilling and conveying impressions like those Deb and I have gathered over the years. It features people we encountered in Duluth, Minnesota, and Greenville, South Carolina. (Brief pre-roll ad comes with this embedded video; full link here.) It features our friends at Bent Paddle brewing, at the Epicurean and Loll manufacturing companies, at Cirrus Aircraft, and others in Duluth, and Mayor Knox White and others throughout the city of Greenville.

Thanks in the short run to the CBS team, and more generally to the thousands of people around the country who have helped us learn about the ongoing realities of the modern United States.