Stalking the Elephant: My Discovery of America


312 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-670-88641-6
DDC 973.929





Reviewed by Graham Adams, Jr.

Graham Adams, Jr., is a professor of American history at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.


Observers from other lands who journeyed to the United States and
published their commentaries made valuable contributions to history.
Alexis DeTocqueville’s Democracy in America and James Bryce’s The
American Commonwealth, for example, shed considerable light on American
civilization. James Laxer attempts a similar approach.

Unfortunately, Laxer displays little of the depth or breadth of
DeTocqueville or Bryce; more importantly, he lacks their fairness and
balance. Since Laxer dislikes capitalism and America, he carefully
preselects his topics to present unfavorable images. When he starts his
tour, he immediately heads for a right-wing organization in Michigan
that schemes to use force against the government. Laxer insists that
this obviously lunatic-fringe group is a “feature of an American
social psychosis.” He then represents the Columbine High School
killings as something intrinsically American but makes no mention of a
similar tragic massacre of young women students in Montreal. Americans,
Laxer asserts, have a fixation with founders whether they are
businessmen or authors of the Constitution; he ignores Canada’s
worshipful references to the Fathers of Confederation.

Travelers to any city in America can easily obtain lists of the better
restaurants at various price levels, but Laxer purposely seeks out
greasy-spoon diners and then complains about the food. In New York City
he finds nothing except a rather sad gathering of defeated socialists.
He shows no awareness of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the
Metropolitan Opera, or the New York Public Library. America may have
produced Herman Melville, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many
others, but Laxer does not even acknowledge the existence of American
literature, art, music, science, or education.

Reading Stalking the Elephant is like visiting a house of mirrors at an
amusement park; one encounters images that are distorted and fragmented.
Laxer writes well and has an engaging critical mind, but his
anti-Americanism so overwhelms his judgment that it severely diminishes
the value of his effort.


Laxer, James., “Stalking the Elephant: My Discovery of America,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,