This book is the story of journeys that took place over more than four years, from preliminary and planning trips late in 2012 through our final cross-country travel at the start of 2017. Our goal has been to portray the people we spoke with and places we visited at specific moments in time.
Time has not stood still in any of these cities, and inevitably circumstances have changed from what we originally saw. Some people we interviewed have changed jobs, retired, gained or lost political office, moved to different parts of the country. At least one of them has died. Many of the businesses we describe have grown and prospered. At least two of them have failed. Cities and their populations have gone through political and cultural changes—some for the better, but not all. In a few important cases we have noted these
changes, but for the most part we have left our account faithful to what we saw and heard when we were on-scene. This account draws on extensive notes we made each night while on the road, a practice based on the belief that we’d remember and capture impressions more vividly during the same day than ever afterward. It also draws on reports we posted along the way on The Atlantic’s website, and on later follow-up interviews. Reflecting this mix of reporting over an extended period, some of the narrative is left in present tense, describing what we saw at the time: “the downtown is recovering.” Other parts are in past tense: “the mayor told us….”