In This Review

Being America: Liberty, Commerce, and Violence in an American World
Being America: Liberty, Commerce, and Violence in an American World
By Jedediah Purdy
Alfred A. Knopf, 2003, 352 pp

With Being America, a mix of reporting and reflection on America's role in a world shaken by globalization, the intellectual wunderkind Purdy has established himself as a major presence on the American scene. Purdy always seems comfortable, whether visiting sweatshops and labor organizers in Cambodia, chatting with al Qaeda sympathizers in the bazaars of Cairo, or discussing the emotional roots of his generation's approach to branded consumer goods. That said, Being America sometimes misfires. Globalization books inevitably have their thin and gassy stretches; this one is no exception. Purdy sometimes slips from brilliance into mere precocity. His rhetorical stance -- progressive centrism -- is not always compelling: straw men to the left of me, straw men to the right of me, onward I pundit. But these weaknesses are like sunspots on the sun. Purdy's extraordinary range of observation supports a judicious political intelligence and a powerful analytical mind. His core insight -- that Edmund Burke's fundamentally moral concept of liberal society provides an essential critique of both the antiglobalist left and the globalization cheerleaders -- is original and sound. Being America successfully captures our ambivalence about the American model in a sensitive, nuanced, and balanced way.