Book Review: Beautiful America

Book Review: Beautiful America

By Peter Kougias

First image before the title page. Plymouth Rock. The sight of the crime.

Inhabited land colonized by white intruders seeking religious refuge. Pilgrims stole land from Indigenous People. PERIOD.

The Trail of Tears, white-washing, and centuries of denial try to justify the idea of “that’s what you did back then” and “get over it,” but only prove an individual's blatant racism, ignorance, and taught hatred.

Fast forward to the 1970s.

“Detroit, 1971” by Jerry Berndt. Published by  Steidl .

“Detroit, 1971” by Jerry Berndt. Published by Steidl.

Trash is strewn across the sidewalks and streets. Smog lurks in thick clouds scraping across the city skylines.

The prelude of a wasteland.

“Seabrook, 1979” by Jerry Berndt. Published by  Steidl .

“Seabrook, 1979” by Jerry Berndt. Published by Steidl.

Hungover, Jerry Berndt’s Beautiful America (published by Steidl) picks up after the 60’s when the summer of love’s aftermath burned-out into post-Vietnam trauma, scarring the unfortunate soldiers stripped away from their lives and the empirical thought of “what’s next”.

College students take to the streets advocating their first amendment leading a better future. You can hear the echoes “ATTICA! ATTICA! REMEMBER ATTICA?”

“Boston, 1974” by Jerry Berndt. Published by  Steidl .

“Boston, 1974” by Jerry Berndt. Published by Steidl.

“Detroit, 1972” by Jerry Berndt. Published by  Steidl .

“Detroit, 1972” by Jerry Berndt. Published by Steidl.

Prom queens rule the homecoming in their automotive chariots parading around the football field leading to the after party brouhaha just a few streets away.

I can smell the stale beer chugged from the dented keg, and hear the pounding on the locked bathroom door as somebody purges their guilt into the toilet bowl. Maybe some Black Sabbath is spinning on the turntable? Existential bliss.

The never ending word vomit spurring out of old white mens’ mouths initiates wars since the beginning of time. In one photo, a white man is center framed among the back of heads listening to him speak. One black women looks into the camera as if to say “Can you believe this?”

“Detroit, 1972” by Jerry Berndt. Published by  Steidl .

“Detroit, 1972” by Jerry Berndt. Published by Steidl.

With the struggle of protecting women’s rights, time shows the continuous and dedicated protests. “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament,” reads a picketing sign in 1980. This was 38 years ago. What the fuck?


The gritty portraits of Beautiful America sum up the irony of this country’s origin spotlighting the thick layer of dirt covering America’s infamous reputation; an empire built on stolen land, the labor of enslaved Black people, and the abuse of white privilege for unruly power.

For more information on Steidl, visit their site here.

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