A chapter is devoted to each book and treats each with the same format. He offers a brief summary of how the book changed the country. Next is a biography of the writer and historical context of the book. If you have not read the book, you will enjoy the third portion, a detailed description of the book. In some cases he details individual chapters. Despite this occasional level of detail, he manages to keep each chapter to approximately 20 pages. A discussion of the books that followed in the wake of the subject work concludes each section. In some cases, books that came before or inspired this particular work are mentioned.
Prior to reading Promised Land I had never considered the importance of "the road trip." It was enlightening to see the diversity in the types of trips, the parallel motives and lessons learned along the way. The most memorable benefit of this book for me was the connections that came to mind while reading. Many of the stories reminded me of other books I've read on my own journey. I can ride on the raft with Huck and Tom, stand on the shore with Eliza, enjoy Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims or ride a chopper with Dennis Hopper. I can participate in my country's grand experiment in self-governing and I can speak with confidence in front of a group. Somehow it's easier to bear my own cross down the road to the promised land because of the journeys of my ancestors and mentors.
The books chosen by Parini help me to see that they, along with many other books I've enjoyed, have not only changed America, they have changed my generation, shaped my thoughts and made me who I am. I read not only to learn, I read to survive.