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Book Review

Book Review: 'Our Towns'

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The new book by The Atlantic correspondent James Fallows and his wife, linguist and writer Deborah Fallows, titled Our Towns, is a compelling look at local communities and how they function--for better or worse-- in a time of national political dysfunction.

Over the course of five years, in a single-engine prop plane, the authors visited about 30 cities across the country.  From Fresno, California to Ajo, Arizona; Holland, Michigan to Greenville, South Carolina; Duluth Minnesota to Garden City and Dodge City, Kansas, the two touched down on local landing strips in the vast geography of flyover country. I was fascinated by the stories of every town the Fallows visited. 

After landing in a city, the two seasoned journalists got right to work. They visited the local newspaper publisher, the economic centers or Chambers of Commerce. They met with members of local government, and visited the health clubs. In preliminary conversations they asked key questions: “Who made things happen, who are the community leaders and which organizations contribute the most to quality of life?”  

The Fallows uncovered factors that allow a city to grow and to be able to solve their own problems after devastating change, a stagnant economy, or other destructive factors. They also observed what makes a community less likely to recover from disasters and change.

Some of their findings for self-determining communities include knowledge of the history of the city, public/private partnerships, a strong library, and strong parks and public recreation. And when asked about the movers and shakers, the more names on the list, the better.