Why do foreigners write the best books about America? Maybe it's because these books are not intended for an American audience and thus lack the sado-masochistic quality of most books by Americans about America.
I picked up Matt Frei's new book Only in America (published in the UK by Fourth Estate) in London last week and it's a tremendously energetic and provocative read. The German born Frei is the BBC's Washington DC correspondent and he writes about America with loving ambivalence. I particularly enjoyed his stuff on the culture of volunteerism in American schools and his hilarious anecdotes about interviewing George Bush (who he treats as a real human being rather than Satan 2.0).
The problem is that books written about America by Americans tend to be either childishly critical or distastefully fawning. Americans expect too much of America. They don't seem to be able to come down from their little city of the hill. Foreigners like Frei -- who have never been dragged up that damn hill in the first place -- are much more tolerant, open and understanding of this great country.
So, Fourth Estate, when are you going to publish Frei's excellent book in America itself? Only in America, it would seem, are the best books about America not available (Sniff, sniff. Anyone smell a conspiracy here? Maybe Dick Cheney is behind it...).