Ecco £16.99 (pp) £15.29 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, Edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey

In the depths of the last great depression Washington came to the assistance of struggling authors, funding the Federal Writers Project. Its greatest legacy was the 500-page-a-volume, 50 volumes, state by state, WPA guide to America. Almost 80 years later and here we are again. A new democratic President faces a global economic meltdown and intractable security problems. This time around we have a smaller, leaner literary response to this American moment; just one volume, a private sector publisher and 50 writers on the 50 states. But it is a bold and ambitious response by editors Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey.

I started, because it seemed to make sense, at the beginning of the alphabet with George Packer's family memoir of Alabama. To my pleasure I discovered the lost history of the state's liberalism and populism, alongside Packer's own faltering but beautifully rendered education in the personal politics of race.

The piece sets the tone for almost the whole book – a mix of memoir that holds you and history you didn't know, an open and self-reflective attitude to race and fantastically good writing.

Alaska was calling next, and I would get to Paul Greenberg's account of the salmon industry amongst the Inuit, but for then it was a journey too far and I reverted to the geography of America I have come to know best – the geography of the presidential election. So it was straight to the big four. Jonathan Franzen's interview with New York State herself, by way of her PA, lawyers and geologists, was wry and cutting and wistful. California got the almost hallucinatory epic treatment from William T. Voleman.

Joshua Ferris told a sweet tale of growing up amongst the human debris that washed dishes in Florida diners. Cristina Henriquez gently probes the Texan stereotype to find its deep Latino connections. The tone and technique of this collection are brilliantly varied. Swinging through states solid for Obama there were smartly observed graphics from Joe Sacco on rainy Oregon and Alison Bechtel on kooky Vermont. Dave Eggers playfully, teasingly, makes the case for Illinois as the centre with the swing and bravado of old-time Midwestern boosterists. Phillip Connors quietly but devastatingly demolishes the myths of "Minnesota Nice" while Antony Bourdain serves up his usual big slice of unabashed life in suburban New Jersey; and all point to the range of perspectives that the editors found – those who stayed, those who left, those who are drawn back, and those that never going back.

In the current spirit of bipartisanship, the blue states have got no monopoly on good writing. Joshua Clarke's Louisiana story is poignant and scary and finds him searching for souls with real life Ghostbusters in the flooded lower ninth of New Orleans where many generations of spirits have been dislodged from the swamp. Ken Brockemeir's tale of the bumper sticker war in Arkansas was just hilarious.

Does anything consistent emerge from this raging cacophony of voices? In part what one would expect: that America is both vast and unbelievably diverse in every way and as the pieces by a Ghanaian on Michigan, a Chinese American on Georgia and on Bosnians in Missouri show – the mix isn't finished yet. Yet perhaps the most persistent image in the collection is the spectre of a homogenised landscape, the endless suburbs, strip developments and Wal-Marts and box stores. More darkly, one finds in many pieces, the recognition that corporate America is as rapacious in tearing up the domestic environment as it is the rest of the world; nowhere clearer than in than Jayne Anne Phillips mournful essay on West Virginia where the mining industry is steadily blasting the top of every last mountain in pursuit of coal.

At a micro level the same raging process of economic transformation that reaches every corner of this country is the background to Charles Bock's bitter sweet recollections of growing up Jewish in Nevada, where his folks ran a pawn shop in the shadow of the Golden Nugget in the old downtown, a shadow that eventually killed it. And there's no escape: Benjamin Kunkel's Colorado ends with the mournful reflection that the combination of romantic individualism and unlimited mobility of life in the mountains is utterly unsustainable.

If the new American administration is serious about its cultural diplomacy and it use of soft power, it might want to let the rest of the world in on what America looks like from the inside. From the pages of this book it looks funnier, quirkier, smarter, more fragile but more thoughtful and generous-hearted than most of the world has imagined it recently. The state department could do a lot worse than issue every embassy with a box or two of State to State.

David Goldblatt's history of football, 'The Ball is Round', is published by Penguin

Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
television
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower