PW: How soon after The Century did you realize you wanted to collaborate again?
TB: Meeting people who had read The Century, who wanted to talk about its themes, convinced us that we wanted to do something about America. You can get very provincial sitting here in New York City, unaware of what's going on around the country. When you go deep in the parts of the country we went to for In Search of America and meet people for no other reason than to discuss ideas with them, you find there's a whole fertile ground out there.
PJ: I'm convinced that anybody who comes to America from somewhere else, whether they're running away or just showing up as I did, wants to offer up their take on this place, which in my case has been fabulously warm and friendly for the last 30 years.
TB: The "journey book" is a staple of American journalism, and part of the American experience is to take stock of who we are as a people. As the Robert Pinsky quote we put at the beginning of the introduction says, Americans don't really have a myth of origin; we make it up as we go along. That's why there's a constant need for these journey books, Tocqueville's being the most famous.
PW: You mention in the introduction how one editor had grumbled to you that Tocqueville was a cliché.
PJ: It's almost naïve to say so, but he turns out to be so useful to anybody who writes about this country after him. But we also wanted to mention Alistair Cooke's America, and books by Luigi Barzini and Nick Reeves...... Once we got those books in our quiver, we felt more comfortable.
PW: What provoked the change in publishers from Doubleday to Hyperion?
PJ: The answer is one word: Disney. I work for Disney, and they suggested....
TB: Remember that when Doubleday took on The Century, Disney hadn't bought ABC yet.
PJ: That's true, and Steve Rubin and everybody at Doubleday did a fabulous job. So we went back to them automatically, but then Disney pointed out that if we wanted them to do the television version, why would we go somewhere else to do the book? So, with some initial reluctance, we went to talk to Bob Miller at Hyperion. But they really put themselves out for us, Bob especially. They've been just terrific.
PW: How do you divide the work?
PJ: He did much more of the writing this time, and I did a lot more of the reporting. Part of that was the time pressure—he wasn't able to get out, and besides, he writes better for print and I write better for broadcast!
PW: How long had you been working on this project when September 11 happened?
TB: A little over a year. We began writing around the beginning of 2001, but we'd spent several months conceptualizing the story before then.
PJ: From 9/11 on, I was gone. I didn't get up out of that [anchor's] chair for weeks on end. We decided we needed to go back and see how 9/11 had changed the lives of the people in our stories.
TB: But we didn't tear anything up. We didn't start over in any way. It didn't change the concept; if anything, it gave us more resolve. We felt more responsibility for the project because we felt that it was helping us come to understand what was at stake in this nation. It's representative of the strong nation people think America needs to be.
PJ: We were absolutely determined that this would not be a 9/11 book. There were people who wanted us to... well, you see it every day, people selling something using the flag. It's one of the reasons we resisted having a lot of flags on the cover. We didn't want anybody to believe we were taking advantage of 9/11 to sell a book.