Novelist and essayist Ben Fountain contends that American society has a history of burning in order to survive—it did so literally in the fields of the Civil War and figuratively in the streets of the Great Depression. In Beautiful Country Burn Again (Ecco, $27.99) he contends that another fire is due. He bases his argument in his experience covering 2016's presidential candidates as they postured, promised, and dwindled their way from Iowa to the White House. In that reportage, the author conveys both the absurdness and the tragedy of that race while documenting a country he sees becoming a democracy in name only. Is Trump the problem, or a symptom of a much larger problem we can no longer avoid facing? This is a tough book about tough issues—the reader doesn't get many sentences off. But what Fountain addresses in these essays eloquently and frankly speaks to the threat he feels we all must confront, no matter who wins the next election.
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