Time Essay: On Reimagining America

In 1835 the inevitable Alexis de Tocqueville called America une feuille blanche, a blank page, upon which history waited to be written. History has been scribbling away ever since. So have generations of traveling writers. It became a sort of religious obligation, like the Muslim hadj, for European journalists, geniuses and hacks to make their way to the New World and there test their sensibilities upon the peppy and savage Nova Zembla that interrupted Columbus on his way to the Orient.

America has always been a splendid subject—and a fat target. For years in...

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