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The Author Speaks

The No. 1 Thing to Love About America: The Dream

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At age 10, I drew a sketch of my slumbering mutt Pal and wrote an ode to him, which revealed a stronger affection for him than for my two brothers. My mother read the essay and said, “Brent, you’ll be a writer someday.”

Thus was born my American dream. True, in my mid-20s, I abandoned reveries about producing the great American novel and submitted to my fate as the chronicler of small-town school-board meetings and basketball games. Yet, by perseverance and dumb luck, I stumbled fitfully up the ladder of my craft until I beheld with astonishment my name atop stories in our nation’s two greatest newspapers and on the covers of four books.

Have I achieved fame? No, though I did manage to cadge a couple of autographed baseball cards from a former Major League left fielder, also named Brent Bowers, by sending him my signed business card and asking him to reciprocate.

If glory has eluded me, I have nevertheless achieved my modest version of the American dream, as all of us can in this country as in no other. A dash of ambition, a sprinkling of hustle, a yearning for making a mark on the world—that is really all it takes. Besides, to rework a cliché, the journey is more fun than the destination.

Or maybe not. Even at 66, I have plans for triumphs to come. Stay tuned.

Now, about 1,000 Things  to Love About America, the book I coauthored with my wife Barbara and our friends Henry and Agnes Hooper Gottlieb: It not only celebrates but ranks, in order of importance, the reasons we’re proud to call the U.S.A. home. It starts with No. 1,000, “The Third Millennium: The call of destiny,” and winds its way down to No. 1, “Pursuing the American Dream: Yours, mine, and ours.”

Note the verb “pursuing.” The American dream takes on meaning only in the quest for it. To quote our own prose, “The to-do lists are long and as varied as the country’s races, regions, classes, cultures, incomes and political leanings.”

In other words, Americans have the freedom to seek whatever future beckons them, whether it be the presidency (No. 275, “The White House: A home to vie for”), overnight riches (No. 52, “Poker: America in miniature,” in which we assert that “Every game is a new beginning, every shuffle of the deck a second chance”), or just goofing off under your boss’s nose (No. 993, which we quote in full: “Napping at the Office: Mental health moments. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Wha? Huh? Oh? No, I was just thinking with my eyes closed”).

America is a magnet not for sluggards, but for strivers. Chasing after dreams takes hard work. Thus we rate “Entrepreneurship: The secret to America’s economic miracle” at No. 20, “Rugged Individualism: Going it alone” at 287 and, as a counterpoint, “Gone Fishin’: The big escape” (from our workaholic ways) at 200.

Our book isn’t so much a compendium of ideas, however, as a guide to the tangible wonders of this great land. Let’s start with food.

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