It's hard for me to review Attractive Unattractive Americans: How the world sees America because I'm torn.
Background on me
I've been to 100 countries and I speak 6 languages, so I'm quite familiar with what the world thinks about America. Moreover, I have three passports (USA, Chile, and France). My parents were American immigrants, I went to a French school for 10 years, I grew up speaking Spanish, and I've lived abroad for many years. As a 1st generation American, I am less attached to the US than most Americans - so I can see it a bit more objectively than most, almost like a dispassionate foreigner, which is what Zografos is.
Lastly, I've written The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us, which is 750 pages of what Eastern Europeans can teach us Americans. In it, I discuss what Eastern Europeans think about Americans, which makes me quite familiar with this complex subject. Currently, I'm writing a book my travels to all 54 African countries - and I'm sharing some of their thoughts about America there too.
Most importantly, I have a lot of sympathy for René Zografos, because I'm just like him: I've written books that cover generalities and stereotypes about other countries. I had to write about how the Polish, Romanians, and Russians really are like. I explained the differences between Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians. It's hard to write such books, because if it's easy to either say incorrect generalities (which is what bold people do) or say nothing meaningful (which is what politically correct people do). It's a thankless task that is guaranteed to provoke endless disagreement. Therefore, I feel quite guilty and hypocritical about disagreeing with this book. But first.....
What I liked about Attractive Unattractive Americans
+ It covers every possible opinion. You hear voices from all over the spectrum. No stone is left unturned.
+ It's good toilet-seat reading. Pick it up, read 1-2 pages, put it down. You can do that easily. You can also skip around without any problems.
What I disliked about Attractive Unattractive Americans
- Because the author is trying to capture all opinions about America, in the end, you feel confused. This is arguably simply the reflect of reality. You ask 10 people, you get 11 opinions. It's true that the truth about who Americans are (or any nationality) is extremely nuanced. Therefore, it's natural that you'll get a bit of this back and forth. "Americans are stingy" then "Americans are generous" or "Americans are super fit" but "Americans are super fat", or "Americans are not to be trusted" but "Americans are trustworthy." And so on.... At some point, you want to scream, "Will the real American please stand up?"
- The author's Norwegian nationality comes through a bit too often. For example, he cites that the USA is #12 in Legatum Prosperity Index. Who's number 1? Norway, of course. Why doesn't he cite the Index of Economic Freedom? Neither Norway nor the USA is in the top 10 (Hong Kong and Singapore top that survey). Or the many of surveys out there. Although the book offers stats, it could have used more of them.
- Sometimes the generalities are simply wrong. Example: "I have noticed that Americans make rectangular cakes, while we make them round," said Noelle from France.
Another: "It's no doubt that Americans love their country, but what surprises me is that they don't know why." - Javier, Spain
Of course, perhaps the author wants to include these false stereotypes to illustrate the incorrect things foreigners think about the USA. Still, it would have been useful to only quote people who say things that are defensible.
- Disjointed. It feels like the author created a website where everyone could enter their opinion about America and then he just copied and pasted the thousands of opinions into his book. It's random and could have used better organization and editing.
- Not enough surveys. Gallup and Pew Research do many global polls that focus on what people think about America. It's a pity that Zografos didn't cite them. It would have given some objectivity to the mess of opinions that cover this book.
I would have liked the author to take a stance more often instead of burying us with contradicting generalities. It's a pity he doesn't take a stand more often, because after having surveyed thousands of people, he has the authority to pass accurate
(or at least
compelling) judgments. Instead, too often, he is shy about making firm conclusions. Toward the end, he shares his opinion (which I usually agreed with).
I almost gave this book 2 stars out of 10. In the end, however, I thought about my Cameroonian girlfriend, who has never left Africa, and is fascinated with America. I want her to read this book before she goes to America, so she has an idea what to expect. It's also a good book to stir discussion/debate about the USA. She'll ask if it's true what an Italian says in the book: "The American girls, they have this funny, big hairstyle--like we had in the 1980s." I'll say that's false and so she'll learn something.
DISCLOSURE: The publisher sent me the Advanced Reading (Pre-publication) Kindle version for free to do an honest review. The Kindle version had typos on every page. It was a complete nightmare. For example, one heading said, "five foreigners on mAnHAttAn, new york." It was nonstop typos and improper capitalization, which was distracting. I hope/assume that they fixed that in the final version. Therefore, if you're buying it for Kindle, make sure you download the sample first! Otherwise, get the print version, which seems attractive from the "Look Inside" feature in Amazon.