Review: Here is Where by Andrew Carroll


One of the perks about working in a bookstore, is that I can grab advance copies of upcoming books. Sometimes, buried in those piles of stereotypically quirky high-brow attempts at literature, a real diamond can be found in the rough. Here is Where is almost one of those diamonds.

Right off the bat, let me tell you the one problem I had with this book: it was too long for its own good.  Here’s why: The basic premise of Carroll’s history expedition is that he travels the country to discover and tell the forgotten tales of American history.  He carries with him three basic rules, of which the following is most important (to me): the “forgotten history” needs to have a national impact. Carroll is a conversational writer, and I really enjoyed his approach to history.  He is not a historian in a traditional sense.  There is no historiography,  no great methods of historical research used in his effort, but he doesn’t try to pass this off as “real” history.  Let’s call him a “history traveler.”

He regales us with interesting stories of crazy coincidences that entertain and enlighten.  For an example of enlightenment, his story of the Nihau Incident helps us better understand why America embraced forced detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  For a story of entertainment, we learn that the television was developed (at least on paper) by a fourteen year old boy, who later lived a tragic life in which he was screwed over by RCA. So on this basis alone I would recommend his book.

He’s clearly a talented writer. But there is one fundamental flaw in his book: the pacing. The book is organized into subject parts, which means most readers will find 3/5s of the book fascinating and the other portions boring.  Myself, I didn’t care for his segments on medicine or inventions.  He does an admirable job putting in place a kind of narrative of his travels, but the thread is weak. I devoured the first two-thirds of the book in two days, and then promptly lost interest.

I admittedly have not finished the book yet.  It’s worth a read, but the format Carroll has used for his book has removed any sense of urgency from the book.  It feels like a random assortment of stories, which can be read in any order (for the most part) that doesn’t really go anywhere. Out of 5 stars, I’d give it 3.  If you read it, you’ll like it (or at least most of it) but structurally it’s not great. Here is Where is due to be released in May 2013.

UPDATE:  Website for the book is up:  Click the title to visit.

Here Is Where by Andrew Carroll