You can't live in Ann Arbor long before someone tells you that the city is "twenty-eight square miles surrounded by reality." Sometimes it's said with pride, sometimes with embarrassment, but either way, it asserts the city's unique character. So it's a little deflating to learn that citizens of Boulder, Colorado, call their town "twenty-five square miles surrounded by reality." Residents of Austin, Texas; Iowa City, Iowa; Ithaca, New York; and Madison, Wisconsin, do the same changing only the number of miles.
That kind of reality check happens a lot reading The American College Town. Blake Gumprecht has written a field guide to the leafy, left-of-center places so many academics call home--yet no others had ever studied.
Gumprecht, fifty, chairs the geography department at the University of New Hampshire. A former music label rep, librarian, and reporter, he's a little leafy and left-of-center himself: he seems most engaged when writing about the progressive politicians who made Davis, California, a beacon of recycling and bicycling, and creative outsiders like the late Athens, Georgia, musician Vic Chesnutt. But he's also a diligent scholar who identified more than 300 college towns, visited 150, and researched sixty before selecting eight to profile in his book.