The History of the Future

The History of the Future: American Essays

What does it mean to think about Dallas in relationship to Dallas? In The History of the Future, McPherson reexamines American places and the space between history, experience, and myth. Private streets, racism, and the St. Louis World’s Fair; fracking for oil and digging for dinosaurs in North Dakota boomtowns—Americana slides into apocalypse in these essays, revealing us to ourselves.

* "Best Books of 2017" (The Guardian, Iowa Public Radio)

* Winner of the 2017 PEN Southwest Book Award

* Finalist for the 2018 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award

“This collection brims with subdued, self-aware brilliance.” —Publishers Weekly

“A lively, enlightening, and occasionally disturbing book that envisions the future as already broken.”—Kirkus Reviews

“It is… the perfect time for a book such as The History of the Future, which pulls no punches as it investigates the foibles of our nation through a series of seven warning essays… [McPherson] proves himself to be a master chronicler of our nation’s incongruous trajectory.”—Star Tribune

“A collection of impressively researched yet conversational essays about environmental degradation, place, and time.”—The Guardian

"[The] Faulknerian truism of the never-passing past is a dominant strain in Edward McPherson’s terrific new collection The History of the Future: American Essays, which examines seven cities and regions across the United States in an elegant voice reminiscent of E. B. White and Rebecca Solnit... McPherson’s depth of research, the inventiveness of his prose, and his sensitivity to municipal undercurrents make this a first-rate work of social analysis... To walk through a city with him is to be in the company of one who looks through landscapes rather than at them."the Los Angeles Review of Books

The History of the Future is about contradictions... It is at once sobering and awe-inspiring.”—Robin Underdahl, Judge's Comments, 2017 PEN Southwest Book Award for Creative Nonfiction

"Taking on our relationships with the places we've called home, our myths, our social biases, and our ecological concerns for the future, McPherson offers a soul-searching, though not bleak series of think pieces designed to get us all asking more questions."Booklist

"This is a thoroughly American book after all, one of shocking kinetic force and cultural insight. I look forward to more of McPherson’s work, frightening as it is."—the Los Angeles Review

"It is an uncertain time in America and, as such, good timing for The History of the Future—essays written with a deft touch of foreboding concerning our future… [The] essays are tremendously readable, thoughtful, and funny—even funny, or especially funny, when they are dire."—John Irving

"The History of the Future touches contemporary politics even while it concerns itself with issue’s bigger than last week’s headlines… McPherson has collected fragments from culture, history, and his life and used them to erect an edifice that points the way to—but, one hopes, in doing so might also help protect against—our ruin."—the Georgia Review

“In his energetic and incisive collection of essays, The History of the Future, McPherson thoughtfully examines seven markedly different American sites. In doing so, he zeros in on the manner in which cultural representation and the pull of nostalgia skewer our self-image at this critical juncture in American history, too often steering us away from our most pressing concerns. His often quirky study reveals the suppressed violence that ravages our communities’ social harmony as well as the environmental balance we so desperately need to preserve.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“What struck me most about these essays is how McPherson weaves past and present so beautifully.”Talk of Iowa

“[McPherson's] essays dwell upon geographic locations and the human experience that spins out from them—with a not-insignificant focus on the consequences of human calamity in the form of nuclear threat, climate change, and racism. They range from the more personal, spending time in McPherson's family home in Gettysburg, to the journalistic, with our fearless leader exploring the gas boomtowns of the Dakota plains and excavating dinosaur bones nearby.”—Essay Daily

“McPherson’s essays are everything essays should be: in love with the mundane, inquisitive, personal while still aimed at unpacking the wider world in new and interesting ways… The History of the Future is filled with surprising information, masterfully puzzled together.”NewPages

“Rather than wax nostalgic about a mythical Past-That-Never-Was, McPherson instead teases out the grand ambition of a bygone era, of a reach that far exceeded its grasp and designs for a future that never quite materialized as planned… What makes The History of the Future an engaging book is the author’s willingness to probe the ultimately irretrievable nature of the past, and to observe the ways in which the idealism of a previous age has often determined the anxieties of the current one.”—Rain Taxi Review of Books

"I'm just now dipping into Edward McPherson’s The History of the Future: American Essays, place-based literary journalism combining McPhee’s penchant for deep research, Didion’s discerning eye, and the author’s own wry wit.”—Dinty W. Moore, Kenyon Review's Summer Reading List

“Journalism of the highest order—a book that courageously confronts the darkness and nihilism which are eroding the freedom and democracy America once stood for.”—Lively Arts

The History of the Future... is both enjoyable and educational. It also strongly positions itself within the framework of this golden age of the essay we're currently experiencing.”Milkweed Books Blog, "Read This Next: June Subscription Pick"

“McPherson doesn't force a singular narrative or try to tie things up too neatly, letting towns be as complicated and bizarre as they are.”The Arkansas Times

“McPherson’s is a rare tour guide you’d like to take with you long after your trip to the museum is over… The History of the Future should be required reading for those who grapple with understanding our past.”Heavy Feather Review

"McPherson’s writing is measured and subtly engaging, exploring the nuances of each locale with the grace of the finest New Yorker writing, drawing parallels in particular to John McPhee... The warmth of his personal stories balances out the sense of foreboding that builds throughout the collection, infusing it with stakes and breathing life into what is already a finely crafted little history book."fields magazine

“In The History of the Future, McPherson explores America in all its beauty and strangeness. He is funny and searching—a joy to read.”—Elizabeth Kolbert

The History of the Future is a book of astonishments: in these essays we are taken on a series of journeys around America to half-secret places where the soul of the country is hidden away. Edward McPherson is a wonderful tour guide: intelligent, funny, and urbane, he never seems disconcerted by the everyday wonders he shows us. If you thought you knew America, read this book; you will find yourself surprised, dismayed, and delighted by the truths he has found and the stories he tells.”—Charles Baxter

“Edward McPherson’s meditations on the United States—from its soaring, vulnerable architecture to its deep underground tunnels—are bracing in their acknowledgment of what’s been lost to time and his anxieties about what’s ahead. This is a smart and beautifully written book about America.”—Rebecca Traister