Part travel guide, part almanac, The Nation Guide to the Nation aims to be the go-to resource for progressive liberals around the U.S. The editors of America’s oldest liberal organ, The Nation, have compiled their Guide to help you answer burning questions: Need to find a “100 percent vegetarian restaurant” in Bloomington, Indiana? Interested in checking out “The world’s only unionized, worker-owned peep show co-op” ? Want to “wear a hemp dress at your wedding”? ( “It’s a cool thing to do,” the text assures us). Look no further. Organized into six sections — Cultural, Social, Environmental, Organizations, Media, and Goods and Services — The Nation Guide to the Nation covers everything from fair trade coffee to anarchist film festivals to organic soul food. Interspersed throughout the book are sections labeled the “Left Heritage Trail,” a shot at attempting to institute a sort of “must-see” registry of sites in the history of the progressive left. The “Left Heritage Trail” sections also serve as a (very brief) history of labor, environmental, and Civil Rights movements in the United States. The editors attempt to further expand the scope of the book by adding sections like “25 Greatest Political Films” (a fairly successful list), “A Left Mystery Tour” (do we really need our mystery novels to have a liberal bent?), and “Anthems of the Left” (Ugh. Their (hopelessly out-of-touch) top ten list includes frat boy favorite “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley and U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)”).
The book’s entries are short and informative, providing addresses, numbers, and websites, and in this sense, it’s really quite successful. However, its overall tone veers into a sort-of “How to Be a Liberal for Dummies” territory. It seems that most progressive thinkers already have the resources or networks to discover this stuff on their own, if they don’t already know about it. For example, do we really need help finding progressive radio stations in Berkeley or San Francisco, and is it especially revelatory to note that New York City has some great bookstores? Still, I will concede that there is probably a young kid in Iowa who would be quite turned on to see what else is out there (no offense to Iowa; apparently the Cedar Falls Farmers’ Market is a great place “to chat, hug, cuddle babies” and just generally have a great Saturday). It is really the uninitiated (or, I suppose, the poseur) who will benefit the most from this guide. Hopefully, as our new President takes office, Americans will begin to see that “liberal” is not a dirty word, and that progressive ideas and radical movements have driven most of the positive social changes in this country, from ending slavery to instituting a 40 hour work week to extending suffrage to women. Those uninitiated in–or resistant to–these historical realities would be well-served by checking out The Nation Guide to the Nation.