This is one of those books which many claim to have read and yet others will look down upon you for not having read it. An intellectual snobbishness has grown up around its presence. It appears on lists of books which one is expected or might have been expected to have read.
It is an intriguing book and one which demands attention and probably more than one reading. I will go back and probably quite soon.
What is it about? I would argue that it works brilliantly on more than level. It can be read as a mere travelogue; the recollection of a journey taken from Midwest America to the West coast. In that travelogue we are treated to a wealth of atmospheric description and I certainly felt as if I was travelling on the bike with Chris and his father.
At the same time we are looking at a personal history and the tale of someone who is coming to terms with mental illness and the effects of obsession on his life. Our narrator charts the rise and fall of “Phaedrus”, who is not explicitly named as being the narrator but is obviously him. The impact that his thinking has on his life becomes a metaphor for the society in which we live and putting this into context the book becomes a comment on the American dream.
Alongside this and delivered as a series of essays (the chataquas), is a consideration of philosophical thought charted over the last 2000 years and an exploration of values.
It is a work of absolute genius and deserves the accolades it gets.