It's difficult to remember when a writer of any nationality so clearly and thoughtfully delineated both the good and bad in America. Of course, it had to be a Frenchman following in the steps of Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated by Charlotte Mendel, American Vertigo expands on a series of essays (originally published in The Atlantic Monthly ) in which philosopher/journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy attempts to update Tocqueville's 1835 opus Democracy in America. Crisscrossing the country over a year, Lévy travels to prisons and churches, visits cities and towns of all sizes, and picks up pieces of history along the way, such as the tidbit that the architect who designed Mount Rushmore belonged to the Ku Klux Klan. Lévy superbly conveys multiple, sometimes contradictory ideas, describing America as ''greedy and modest, drunk at once with materialism and religiosity, puritan and outrageous, facing toward the future and yet obsessed with its memories.''