anecdotes, interesting conversations, occasionallyna sharp observation. I lookednforward to Old Glory. I should havenknown better.nA dififerent sort of problem comes upnwhen outsiders (Raban, as I said, isnEnglish) write books about our society.nHere we are the natives. When thenauthor is amused, puzzled, irritated, ornpleased, we’re the reason. And here thenpresumption of knowledge is with thenreader, who (in my case, at least) readsnthese accounts with some anxiety: Doesn[Raban] has given us a fresh portrait of ourselves.’nhe understand? Did he get it right?nSometimes, of course, even a badnbook—one that gets many things wrongn—can be interesting because of how itngets them wrong. Separate Country, annotherwise unremarkable book by annEnglishman named Paul Binding,nearned a place in my heart and on mynbookshelf for one passage alone. Bindingnarrived in Atlanta by train, in earlynmorning, and set out to walk downtownnfrom the station (and who but a foreignernwould walkiy.nI had walked for some time down anpleasant but uninteresting suburbannroad before, standing at the crest of andownward-sloping avenue, I saw—asnif placed there for my benefit only instantsnbefore—downtown Atlanta. Inthink there can be no urban landscapenin the world more dramaticnthan Atlanta seen from a shortndistance. It is a dense, sudden,nstrange cluster of skyscrapers, diversenin shape and height but all at a casualnglance seemingly made of polishednglass. . . . [Tlhe rising sun shonenthrough that abrupt and soaringnforest of buildings and made the mostnextraordinary of them all—thenround, gigantic, dominating PeachtreenHotel—a burning column ofngreen and orange.nWell, like most conservative Southeiners,nwhen I look at Atlanta / see whatntwo hundred thousand ConfederatenS8inChronicles of Cttltnrensoldiers died to prevent—but I’ll nevernsee it again without realizing that there isnone Englishman out there who thinks itnlooks like the Emerald CitynofOz.nMy pleasure in these odd new angles,nhowever, is usually offset by irritationnthat someone can presume to write aboutnus on the basis of a quick and superficialntour. Of course, it’s gratifying, in a way,nto be thought interesting enough to benthe subject of a book, and Southernersnprobably have this experience moren—Newsweeknoften than other Americans. With thenpossible exception of Southern California,nthe South is the part of America thatnNew Yorkers and other foreigners seemnto find most exotic. Maybe a great travelnbook could be written about Nebraskan(after all, Newby wrote about Siberia),nbut I have yet to hear of one. Nebraskanfor the Nebraskans seems to be thengeneral view. Sometimes, though, anSoutherner can envy Nebraskans theirnnormality, their boringness, or whatevernit is that keeps visiting firemen away.nOne can get tired of reading about hisnhomeplace and wondering where thenauthor got that idea.nSoutherners and Midwesterners alikenwill often find themselves respondingnthat way to Old Glory, althoughnsometimes, unfortunately, it’s perfectlynevident where Raban got his ideas:nthey’re about what you would expectnfrom the Smith College professor that henonce was. At one point he seems to sympathize,nalmost, with an Iowa businessmannwho protests that Easterners arenalways treating lowans as yokels, butnusually he can’t resist putting down Midwesternersnhimself. (I can’t either, butnI’m not writing a travel book.) Onendoesn’t expect Raban to like everything,nbut one wishes his likes and dislikesnweren’t so predictable.nAs he told the lowan, this book is notnthe inside story on America, but rathernnnthe inside story on Raban (which gives annunexpected and almost certainly unintendedntwist to the title)—and perhapsnthat’s the trouble. Raban’s opinions andnpersonal problems lead him into activitiesnhe cares about, but when he expectsnhis readers to care, he expects too much.nOne particularly wearisome episode seesnour narrator laying over for some weeksnin Memphis to fight for tmth, justice andnthe American way in the context of anmayoral election. He may have been, asnhe believes, on the side of the angels, butnwhat is an English travel writer doing onnany side at all? He didn’t meddle innYemen’s politics when he was writingnArabia—or if he did, he didn’t insist onntelling us about it. The self-indulgencenthat dictated Raban’s itinerary shows upnagain and again, and long before thenjourney was over I’ d concluded that howevernpleasant it was to visit the MiddlenEast with him, Raban is not the sort ofnchap I’d choose for company on a boatnride from Minneapolis to New Orleans.nTo make matters worse, he has a tendencynto pick up unpleasant companionsnand not to drop them fast enough. Onenwoman in St. Louis, in particular, getsntiresome some dozen pages before Rabannwearies of her.nMaybe I’m too hard on the boy.nMaybe I’m jealous because nobody paidnme to take that trip and write about it.nLet’s be fafr. There are the makings of angood two-hundred-page book scatterednthrough this 400-pager. Raban is not thenbook’s real hero: that is Old Man River,nwho does indeed just keep rolling along.nThere are some marvelous passagesnabout the river—as good as anythingnRaban’s beloved Twain ever wrote.nThose readers who’ve seen the Mississippinonly from the bridges and hotel windowsnwill never see it the same way again.nAnd Raban didn’t miss all of the interestingnpeople en route. My favorites, inevitably,nare Southerners—a good olenboy from TiptonviUe, Kentucky; anNegro undertaker and a thoroughly assimilatednLebanese merchant innVicksburg; an indomitable formerlyngrande dame in a Natchez old-folks’n