The History of the Future: American Essays

Essays by Edward McPherson

May 2, 2017 • 6 x 9 • 288 Pages • 978-1-56689-467-8

A collection of long essays centered on American places where the past is erupting into the present in unexpected ways.

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.

About the Author

Edward McPherson is the author of two previous books: Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat (Faber & Faber) and The Backwash Squeeze and Other Improbable Feats (HarperCollins). He has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Paris Review, Tin House, and the American Scholar, among others. He has received a Pushcart Prize, the Gulf Coast Prize in Fiction, a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, and the Gesell Award from the University of Minnesota, where he received his MFA. He teaches creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis.

Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired. To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.


Winner of the 2017 PEN Southwest Book Award in Creative Nonfiction
Finalist for the 2018 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards

“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

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

“[The History of the Future] is a thoroughly American book after all, one of shocking kinetic force and cultural insight.” Los Angeles Review

“Taken together, this travelogue of the familiar and the strange exposes multiple anxieties latent in the national subconscious: racial inequalities, the dread of disaster, the chase after short-term profits, the eroding meaning of home. 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.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

“Like [T.S.] Eliot, 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.” —Georgia Review

“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

“Edward’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. The range from the more personal, spending time in Edward’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

“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

“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

“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 eight warning essays. . . . [McPherson] proves himself to be a master chronicler of our nation’s incongruous trajectory.” Star Tribune

The History of the Future should be required reading for those who grapple with understanding our past.” —Heavy Feather Review

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

“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 quote materialized as planned.” —Rain Taxi

“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.” —NewPages

“Edward McPherson’s The History of the Future: American Essays . . . 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

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

“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

“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