Robert Gottlieb on the Man Who Saw America (And We Mean, All of It)

By Robert Gottlieb

Almost 75 years ago John Gunther produced his amazing profile of our country, “Inside U.S.A.” — more than 900 pages long, and still riveting from start to finish. It started out with a first printing of 125,000 copies — the largest first printing in the history of Harper & Brothers — plus 380,000 more for the Book-of-the-Month Club. It was the third-biggest nonfiction best seller of 1947 (ahead of it, only Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman’s “Peace of Mind” and the “Information Please Almanac”). It was a phenomenon, but not a surprise: Gunther’s first great success, “Inside Europe,” published in 1936, had helped alert the world to the realities of fascism and Stalinism; “Inside Asia” and “Inside Latin America” followed, with comparable success — all three of these books were among the top sellers of their year, as would be “Inside Africa” and “Inside Russia Today,” yet to come. His “Roosevelt in Retrospect” (1950) is one of the best political biographies I’ve ever come across, a mere 400 pages long and pure pleasure to read. Like “Inside U.S.A.,” it is out of print — please, American publishers, one of you make them reappear.

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