Rolling Nowhere by Ted Conover

Rolling Nowhere

Rolling Nowhere is a nonfiction book by journalist and professor Ted Conover. The book documents Conover’s time as a well-educated, middle-class man in his early twenties covertly traveling the rails and living with several different railroad hoboes across more than ten states in the American Midwest and West.

Part anthropologist, part immersion journalist, part social critic, Conover strikes a unique idealism and realism in this book. He writes from a position of insider, though he does so without ever losing sight of his social and cultural positioning in the larger picture of his life.

The book explores themes of survival, resourcefulness, knowledge, and skill. Conover finds communities of people and solo fliers who don’t fit into any kind of American mainstream. They may not be living in a well-understood or broadly-accepted way, but they have found some way to take care of themselves — a way to live in a world that often doesn’t have much to offer.

Useful takeaways from the book include:

  • You can’t always apply the same expectations for every situation.
  • The rails were not meant for people in a hurry.
  • There are moments of pure pleasure and times when the romance of adventure disappears completely.
  • There is an almost mystical wall one crosses in order to live as a hobo.
  • When one crosses to the other side, they are no longer seen by “outsiders” as fully human.
  • People who once ignored or looked down upon or saw others look down upon and mistrust are skilled survivors living in entirely different but overlapping cities and towns.

What I Liked

Everything – what a fascinating book about America. I love anytime a travel writer explores a layer of American society that is usually ignored in everyday life.

What I Did Not Like

Nothing – great book.

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