Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Wednesday 18th July 2012

The Golden Door: Letters to America by AA Gill

The subtitle of AA Gill’s new book is “Letters to America”, but it reads more like a single, continues letter from a love-struck teenager. Be in no doubt: Gill really, really likes America, which he describes as “the best and finest creation of Europe, the culmination of all its deepest aspirations, the fruit of rue, of wisdom and experience”.

He’s less like his normal, witty, acerbic self, than the writer of a glossy brochure for an upmarket American travel company. Here he is on Colorado: “Fields of purple, yellow and white, thick and fetlock-deep, rest like plum salads between hanging redstone walls, flocked in aspect and fir whose leaves flicker like pale sequins in the wind.”

Family packages at the Rocky Mountain Redstone Lodge begin at $999.99.

He only reverts to type when dealing with those snobbish, metropolitan bores who dismiss Americans as “stupid” and “without irony”. “These same people will use every comforting, clever and ingenious American invention, will demand its medicine, wear American clothes, eat its food, drink its drink, go to its cinema, love its music, thank God for its expertise in a hundred disciplines, and will all adore New York,” he writes. “More than that, more shaming and hypocritical than that, these are people who collectively owe their nations’ and their personal freedom to American intervention and protection in wars, both hot and cold.”

Thankfully, it isn’t just Gill’s passion that is awakened by America, it’s also his intellectual curiosity. The Golden Door begins with an account of the Wild West adventures of the Batley Cowboys, Gill’s Yorkshire ancestors, but quickly segues into a cultural history of America, encompassing its food, architecture, motor cars, universities and, of course, its film industry.

All this is well told, embellished by an obsessive attention to detail and the autodidact’s love of trivia. For instance, there’s a whole passage on a chain of fast-food restaurants in Utah called Chuck-a-rama. If you’re ever up against Gill in a pub quiz and the subject is 20th Century history, you should throw in the towel immediately.

One of the curiosities of this book is the elliptical way in which Gill introduces the subject of each chapter, preferring to approach it in a crab-like manner rather than head on. The chapter on skyscrapers, for instance, begins, as all of them do, with a nugget of pub-quiz wisdom: The modern lift was not invented by Elisha Otis, as is commonly believed, but by Frank Sprague, an employee of Thomas Edison (who, Gill cannot resist pointing out, did not invent electricity, either). It was Sprague who came up with the idea of equipping lifts with motors, thereby enabling architectural engineers to replace hydraulic lifts with electronic ones and, in the process, paving the way for the invention of tall buildings.

You can imagine Gill narrating this in person as he stands next to a workbench at Menlo Park, Edison’s commercial laboratory in New Jersey, before popping up on the roof of the world’s first ever skyscraper. The Golden Door often reads like a script for a highbrow television series about America – something in the same mould as Civilisation, the landmark BBC series, which, not coincidentally, was produced by the author’s late father.

The ghost of Michael Gill haunts this book. The narrative begins with the death of Gill’s father’s and the scrapbook he bequeaths to him detailing the exploits of his forebears in the New World. But The Golden Door isn’t just a compendium of miscellaneous facts about various American pioneers; it’s an act of fealty, an attempt on Gill’s part to write something serious and thoughtful and, you can’t help feeling, win his father’s approval.

“Look dad,” he seems to be saying. “I’m not just an acerbic TV and restaurant critic with a gift for pithy one-liners. I’m an intellectual, just like you.”

Apart from wearing his erudition a little too heavily, Gill succeeds in convincing us that he possesses a deep knowledge of his subject. Having read the book, I look forward to the lavish TV series, jointly produced by the BBC and PBS.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter I don't begrudge the Remainers their honours. They were patriots doing their best for their country. But where are the Leavers' honours?  (4 hours ago)


The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
Father of Rhodes Must Fall campaigner broke up Nelson's marriage - Daily Mail
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Beware the soft Stalinists of the campus by David Aaronovitch -
George Osborne and tax credits: how tough decisions get made -
The Alan and Camila Show -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Corbyn's first seven days -
Corbin's cabinet chaos by Darren McCaffrey -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Fact Check: Britain has admitted over 5,000 Syrian refugees, not 216 -
Inside Westminster's free school -
The BBC denied The Great European Disaster Movie was EU-funded. That was untrue -
Jeremy Corbyn's politics are a fantasy – just like Alice in Wonderland by Tony Blair -
Robert Conquest obit -
Reporting on fit for work deaths isn't fit for purpose -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -
The Timothy Hunt witch hunt by Jonathan Foreman -
West London Free School Primary praised in guide to best state schools -
In defence of free schools by Toby Young -
Data briefing: free schools by the numbers -
Malcolm Gladwell's books are books are analgesics for those who seek temporary relief from abiding anxiety by John Gray -
The hypocrisy of Mehdi Hasan by Guido Fawkes -
Intolerance of humanists who attack faith schools by Brendan O'Neill -
The 13 Most Guardian Headlines Ever -
MC Gove in da house by Michael Deacon -
The criminalisation of journalism by Mick Hume -
Why educationalists hate Michael Gove by Frank Furedi -
Profile of Nigel Farage by Edward Docx -
Margaret Thatcher: The softer side by Andrew Roberts -
Margaret Thatcher: Warrior by Matthew Parris -
Margaret Thatcher: Punk savior by Niall Ferguson -
Muslims infected by virus of anti-Semitism by Mehdi Hasan -
Mila Kunis interviewed by hapless Radio 1 DJ -
Postmodern Tories by Roger Scruton -
The Wired magazine article that inspired Argo by Joshuah Bearman -
Panic! The anatomy of a political crisis by Dan Hodges -
The British intelligentsia's libel against Israel by Melanie Phillips -
Review of Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Zöe Heller -
The Guardian has become the Vichy Evening News by Dan Hodges -
Spectator would defy new state regulator by Fraser Nelson - The Spectator
Daily Mail investigation into the Leveson Inquiry - Daily Mail
The hight-minded, Left-wing paedo hunters by Frank Furedi -
Britain's press must remain free by Tim Luckhurst -
Obit of a legendary Labour whip by Nick Robinson -
Referring to students as "learners" is infantilizing by Denis Hayes
Toby Young for Prime Minister by Jake Wallis Simons -
The election that never was by Damian McBride -
JK Rowling's new novel is boring, Left-wing agitprop by Jan Moir - Daily Mail
Naomi Wolf: Dotty and Dim by Zöe Heller -
Gove Levels - Daily Mail
The End of Men? by Hanna Rosin -
Five conservative messages smuggled into Dark Knight Rises by John Boot -
Multiculturalism? Nonsense. The Olympics are a victory for patriotism and common British values by Dan Hannan - Daily Mail
Martin Durkin's dyspeptic view of the Olympics opening ceremony -
Batman: The ultimate conservative hero by Robert Colville -
The day Gordon Brown came to power by Damian McBride -
Owen Jones *is* Justin Beiber by Dan Hodges -
Why Britain shouldn't be part of a European super-state by Charles Moore -
The shame of Britain's public school elite by Matthew Norman -
In defence of Murdoch by John O'Sullivan -
In politics, you're either up or down by John Kampfner - The Independent
James Lovelock recants - Daily Mail
Let's give Polly Toynbee the Britain she wants by Tim Worstall -
Why Labour should support free schools by Andrew Adonis -
Free schools are breaking down barrier to decent education for all by Charles Moore -
The anti-academies campaign is led by Trots, says Michael Gove -
Profit need not be a dirty word in education by Fraser Nelson -
The Magnificent Victory at Cardinal Vaughan by Charles Moore -
Academies policy has been rapidly vindicated by Fraser Nelson - The Spectator
Mossbourne Academy's outstanding A-level results - Guardian
I blame therapy culture for the riots by Dennis Hayes -
Why I'm a Conservative by Toby Young -
The Government must crack the teaching unions by His Grace -
"Ideological" is Labour's empty insult by Dominic Lawson - The Independent
Peter Sissons dissects the BBC's leftwing bias - Daily Mail
Interview with Toby Young in Attain magazine -
Topic of Cancer by Christopher Hitchens - Vanity Fair


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Neil
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film