cover image An Empire Wilderness: Travels Into America's Future

An Empire Wilderness: Travels Into America's Future

Robert D. Kaplan. Random House (NY), $27.5 (393pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45190-7

Having spent more than two decades reporting on ethnic strife and political upheaval in far-flung regions of the world, Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts), turns to his own backyard, trekking across the American West, Mexico and western Canada to map out America's shifting socio-political landscape at the turn of the millennium. The nation, he argues, is losing its identity as one union and splintering, like the Balkanized areas of the globe that have long captivated Kaplan, into a mosaic of different regions with sometimes conflicting cultural identities. In crossing the American Plains and Rocky Mountains, Kaplan sees the growth of city-states and the growing income gap as leading to class-stratified, post-urban pods, in which government does little to improve the living conditions of the poor. The rising Hispanic population in the Southwest has fostered ""binational"" cities, he says, while the shared interests of America's Pacific Northwest and British Columbia is creating Cascadia, a self-contained region predicated on the eventual breakup of Canada. Kaplan's fluid, razor-sharp travelogue is peppered with references--to Gibbon, the Founding Fathers, ancient Greek and Civil War history--and powerful descriptions of the landscape (a Greyhound bus in New Mexico is ""a prison van transporting people from one urban poverty zone to another""; the Arizona desert resembles ""the glazed surface of a red earthen jar""; the Pacific Northwest ""a magical frontier"" of ""brooding cathedral-dark forests"" and place-names suggesting ""an icy clean, mathematical perfection""). As dystopian as it is soberly prescient, Kaplan's vision of 21st-century America will command the attention of readers from all corners of our increasingly decentralized continent. Editor, Jason Epstein; agent, Brandt & Brandt. (Sept.)