ABSOLUTELY AMERICAN by David Lipsky

Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book-‘Em

Absolutely American(January 23, 2004) Patriotism has become popular. Admiration for the military is high. These are not necessarily sentiments one would expect from a journalist for Rolling Stones magazine, however. Yet, the only bias found in David Lipsky's Absolutely American is one of a positive nature.

Lipsky, on assignment to produce an article about West Point for the magazine, was so intrigued by what he saw, that he stayed to "watch" for four years. This non-fiction work is the result. The author was granted unlimited access to the Academy and the cadets from 1998-2002. The book follows the four-year course, highlighting events through the eyes of a handful of cadets.

"Not only was the Army not the awful thing my father had imagined, it was the sort of America he always pictured," Lipsky notes. "Of all the young people I'd met, the West Point cadets were the happiest."

Book-'Em's reaction was very mixed; comments ranged from "fascinating," "fluid" and "an engaging read" to "boring," "unclear," and "poorly written." There was consensus on a few points: it is a very informative work, the individual cadets did not fit the stereotypes we had in our minds, and the author presented an honest portrayal of the institution. That West Point is a model of diversity, meritocracy, and integration was not disputed. Lipsky never whitewashes the realities; he does highlight that West Point life works for a very positive end.

The book also illuminates the vacuum and "culture gap" our military lived in between the end of the Cold War and the era begun on 9-11-01. (Note: the author was on campus at that time.) We felt there were some gaps, notably an exploration of gender perspectives and/or problems.

Ours was not a very focused discussion. We meandered thru some personal ROTC experiences and the current sexual harassment scandal at the Air Force Academy. Other book groups might want to discuss how the elements of academy life could serve society at large, or to look at the parallels and differences between these cadets and civilian college students.

As one member commented, "I wanted to love it. I only liked it." Nevertheless, West Point is located in our backyard and we see these young men and women on the news each night. Absolutely American has merit as a selection.

FROM THE EDITORS: We'd love to hear from other Larchmont readers. Take the Book poll and add your comments.


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