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Publisher's Summary

National best seller.

A vivid, surprising portrait of the civic and economic reinvention taking place in America, town by town and generally out of view of the national media. A realistically positive and provocative view of the country between its coasts.

For the last five years, James and Deborah Fallows have been traveling across America in a single-engine prop airplane. Visiting dozens of towns, they have met hundreds of civic leaders, workers, immigrants, educators, environmentalists, artists, public servants, librarians, business people, city planners, students, and entrepreneurs to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign.

The America they saw is acutely conscious of its problems - from economic dislocation to the opioid scourge - but it is also crafting solutions, with a practical-minded determination at dramatic odds with the bitter paralysis of national politics. At times of dysfunction on a national level, reform possibilities have often arisen from the local level. The Fallowses describe America in the middle of one of these creative waves. Their view of the country is as complex and contradictory as America itself, but it also reflects the energy, the generosity and compassion, the dreams, and the determination of many who are in the midst of making things better. Our Towns is the story of their journey - and an account of a country busy remaking itself.

©2018 James Fallows and Deborah Fallows (P)2018 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

Our Towns will become a classic, joining the ranks of American odysseys from De Tocqueville to Dos Passos. The landscape unfurls beneath us; the language of different regions echoes in our ears. Most important, this book is a tonic for what ails us as a nation, a captivating story of energy and renewal across the land.” (Anne-Marie Slaughter, President & CEO, New America)

“In the tradition of John Steinbeck and Studs Terkel, the Fallows have crisscrossed the country in search of the extraordinary strength and character of ordinary people and places. What they’ve found - in towns we know and others off the beaten path - should give us all great hope for the future.” (California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.)

“An illuminating trip through ‘parts of the country generally missed by the media spotlight’….Writing with lively curiosity and open minds, the couple have created textured portraits of 29 American cities, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Eastport, Maine, to Redlands, California…. A well-reported, optimistic portrait of America’s future.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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What listeners say about Our Towns

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Terrific book!

Other reviews have detailed the basics of this book. However it is more than just a fascinating travelogue. The smart and articulate authors explored and researched the towns they visited to find out what worked and what didn't. The result is a study that should be read and absorbed by civic leaders, planners, economic development types as well as citizens at large.

I listened to the Audible version which was read by the authors, but was so impressed I've ordered the book also. The story of the development of the book was featured on CBS's Sunday Morning last week. A terrific read, highly recommended!

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Excellent premise, please hire a reader.

FIRST: Listen to an audio sample before buying, and make sure you hear both readers and can tolerate them.

The premise of the book is wonderful. I have deep personal connections to a couple of the towns they focused on in the book, and they were spot on and very accurate in their portrayal of both of them. I would be willing to extrapolate this to all of the other places they visited. Which you can probably safely do, as the storyline starts to weave and loop back on itself and it feels like a lot of the material was copy/pasted from one town to the next. The "travel narrative" parts of the story were exceptionally well done, including a very interesting view on the exercise of traveling by small plane.

The Fallows are exceptional reporters. They are slightly above mediocre long format writers. But they are TERRIBLE audio book readers. He has the "whistle S" to the point of physical pain on the part of the listener. How was this not caught in recording, or at least in post? It must have pegged the instruments. While her voice is more tolerable, her pacing, inflection, and enunciation are grating, a bit like a clearer voiced Diane Rehm, but more intense.

I'll finish it, but it's a bit of a slog after the first third, and once I'm done, I can turn up the bands my equalizer above 600Hz again.

9 people found this helpful

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An interesting uplifting look at Americas cities

The writing is excellent, the data fascinating, and analysis very helpful. If you are feeling sad and depressed about the state of America now this book will make you feel much better.
I didn’t love the narration but that is small beer compared to the value of the story the Fallows have on offer.

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good book, bad narration

This is a beautifully written and researched book that is marred by the poor narration of the two authors. I can listen to James Fallows, at least he sounds somewhat conversational. Deborah Fallows has an annoying sing-song quality to her voice, as if she were reading to first graders. Also a gravelly gargle to her voice. Usually it is a mistake for authors to read their own books, and this is a case in point. Don't audiobooks have editors who can guide the authors to do the right thing? Or at least listen to their voices and provide some coaching when necessary?

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Interesting Travelogue and sociological study

The book is well written and lays out what is working and what is not working in several different small cities in the USA. As a side benefit the book also highlights their travel experiences both on the ground and in their small plane. Really interesting perspective.

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Great book. Female voice hard to listen too.

Really positive good story and message. Female Narrator tough to hear. I do recommend book.

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Love James Fallows!

I enrolled in a University of Maryland overseas college course JF was teaching during his time in Japan. He was great - erudite, witty and gave me tips on how to improve my writing. But he actually praised me on my piece which was helpful - I thought it was pretty good but to have THE James Fallows compliment me was wonderful indeed. I even emailed him to say that he left out Hawaii for this book which was a serious oversight but alas, his plane cannot make it over the Pacific. I think he just needs to go there by commercial plane and rent a light plane to visit the islands. Anyway - love the concept of visiting the various towns in the US mainland but no offense, the narration could have used a little more polish. His wife is an expert in her field but narration is not her forte. Apologize again - her narration grated on my ears but I tried to focus on content. I get it that she was included in the book but...Sticking with JF would have made my review a 5.

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Fallows fanboi

As a radical moderate, I recommend this book as a palliative to the manufactured Manichaean vision for our country.

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Mixed bag, lacks social science

It’s clear the book and the conclusions drawn are unscientific and that is fine. Even so this book would’ve benefited from seriously considering counter arguments. The book also focuses a ton of time on glitzy, expensive school programs but doesn’t provide data on whether students perform better as a consequence.

If you’re a city manager, elected officials or in that world this provides some nice ideas but the education bit is especially lacking. I went to a school district that’s kind of like some of these, but it was an expensive waste. Beware of that. There’s a pervasive blank slateism and armchair political psychology (like the assertion Republicans are duped into supporting tax cuts, not that it’s a genuine belief as understood by moral psychology).

It’s a political book sure, but would definitely benefit from not strawmanning the GOP.

The husband’s voice performance is excellent, but the wife could use some work.

I do appreciate the earnestness of this book and the travel and effort needed to make it. Still, if you’re a policymaker take caution and don’t get swept up in all the glitzy bits with no substance.

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Our Towns Long Read

It took me a long time to "get into" the book. Their thoroughness of describing the intricacies of the journey I could tell they felt was necessary but, I was anxiously waiting to hear about the towns and how they have changed to meet the needs of today. When I finally got to what I call the "meat" of "Our Towns" I really thought it was a worthwhile read.

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  • Kiff76
  • 07-18-21

A great perspective for an outsider

As someone who is not from the US, I found this a very interesting view from outside the goldfish bowl. Deborah and James explain wonderfully some of the quirks of US culture.