American Places: A Writer's Pilgrimage to 15 of This Country's Most Visited and Cherished Sites

William Knowlton Zinsser, Author HarperCollins Publishers $20 (200p) ISBN 978-0-06-016638-0

This collection of inquisitive, hopeful, patriotic essays, many of them previously published in such journals as National Geographic Traveler , will have cynical readers putting their views of today's America on hold. Zinsser ( On Writing Well ), a WW II veteran who grew up during the era when Gutzon Borglum sculpted the heads of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore, journeys to 15 American landmarks to find out why they attract so many tourists. He learns that visitors to Yellowstone National Park are recreating the adventures they had with their parents, draws comparisons between Americans' ``macho love of weapons and macho frontier past'' at the Alamo, discovers in Disneyland that ``Main Street circa 1900 is America's lost paradise.'' He also speaks with architect Maya Lin about her Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., and considers the ``lost dignity of presidential conduct'' while exploring Ike's hometown, Abilene, Tex. Attention to old-fashioned values marks these edifying, intriguing history lessons. (May)