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THE LOST CONTINENT Travels in Small-Town North America by Bill Bryson (Harper & Row: $9.95)

September 02, 1990|CHARLES SOLOMON

Although Bill Bryson was born in Iowa, he's lived much of his adult life in England, which enables him to write about the American heartland with both the contemptuous familiarity of a native and the bemused curiosity of an outsider. His account of driving the highways and byways of the Midwest, South and Northeast is very funny, if a bit scatological. What saves this smart-aleck travelogue from the sniggering cynicism of P. J. O'Rourke's accounts of foreign countries is the author's profound love for the land and its beauties. A description of the tatty roadside communities in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee sums up Bryson's attitude: "America has never quite grasped that you can live in a place without making it ugly, that beauty doesn't have to be confined behind fences, as if a national park were a sort of zoo for nature."

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