The American Home Front: 1941-1942, by Alistair Cooke.
In December 1941, British-born, naturalized-American Alistair Cooke was in Washington DC reporting on the negotiations with the Japanese when news of Pearl Harbor broke.
Cooke was, like every other journalist in the country, and especially Washington, swept up in war reporting. But Cooke realized that he wasn’t getting the *real* story in DC, so he struck out for the hinterlands, circumnavigating the entire country to report on how the war effort was affecting America.
This book is his story of driving and riding around the entire USA, observing, interviewing, and examining a rapidly mobilizing country. From farms to factories to internment camps, it is a mid-century de Tocqueville written by an articulate foreign-born, English-speaking, Americanophile.
Cooke meticulously polished his manuscript for years, including taking another trip around the country to confirm his observations. The book was ready for publication in the summer of 1945, but VJ-Day sank any hope of publication. In 2004, shortly before Cooke’s death, his secretary discovered the manuscript while cleaning out a closet, and Cooke approved its publication.
Because it was written contemporaneously, the book has not been the victim of either presentism or revisionism. The language is somewhat more formal than we would expect today, and the idioms are a bit dated, but the frankness and realism of the descriptions and observations are a delight for the amateur historian.
I’ve savored this book in several readings, and certainly will again. Cooke’s vignettes of long ago American life are endlessly fascinating and revealing of who we are today.