The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

ISBN: 0811201066
ISBN 13: 9780811201063
By: Henry Miller

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About this book

In 1939, after ten years as an expatriate, Henry Miller returned to the United States with a keen desire to see what his native land was really like—to get to the roots of the American nature and experience. He set out on a journey that was to last three years, visiting many sections of the country and making friends of all descriptions. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare is the result of that odyssey.

Reader's Thoughts


summary: henry miller is a old man, he has aspergers, the park bench is too uncomfortable, they wont let him feed bread to the ducks at the park, theres too many negros at the park, theres too many dog at the park. hendry miller discovers yoga. henry miller eats, prays, loves.i hate american as much as the next guy but id rather read america-hate from a real authentic french cool guy (baudrillard much??) than a wannabe french bitter expat guy, even if tropic of cancer was good, sorry henry milner. didnt even finish this book, i got like 90 pages in and accidentally tore it in twain out of boredom, RIP


I never considered myself a patriot, until I read this book and felt so fiercely insulted by every trivial insult he flung at all things american. I was fleeing Charleston at the time, and driving through the Smokey Mountains--which were incredible. His arguments seemed extremely petulant ("the parks in america aren't as good as the parks in europe. The stores in america aren't as good as the stores in Europe," etc, etc, etc), and I knew he had no idea what he was talking about when he stopped to make an exception for Charleston, saying it was the only place in America worth going to. I beg to differ.


The problem with this book wasn't that it was strictly bad. On the contrary, a reader gets a glimpse of some of Miller's talent as a writer, with pages upon pages of rhapsodic prose tumbling word upon word until the effect is less like a text and more like standing under a waterfall of imagery and ideas.Unfortunately that doesn't constitute the bulk of the book. What Miller offers is a trip around a country with which he is disgusted and alienated. It's unfair to either blame him for the cliché that this sort of work would turn into in subsequent decades or to suggest that many of his criticisms are inaccurate. But the vast majority of the text is comprised of sweeping generalizations about vast swaths of the country (about which he seems to know little); effete, snooty, and quasi-aristocratic attitudes about the people he encounters - the sort of ex-pat elitism that he attempts poorly to counterbalance with some patronizing support for a scattered handful of salt-of-the-earth types; and blatant, unabashed racism - again, that he attempts to cast as some sort of admiration for African-Americans, but is unmistakable in the acidic tinge that it carries. One is left wondering why, if America is the insatiable cultural vortex that Miller makes it out to be, he returned shortly after this was written and lived in California the remainder of his life.Ultimately, while it bears some marks of the brilliance that carried his best work, this is a somewhat forgettable footnote in an otherwise remarkable body of work.

Matthew Linton

I should have started my foray into Miller with one of his fiction masterpieces, but I got this book on the cheap. It's beautifully written with some fantastic essays (particularly on the decaying Southern United States). The content is uneven. There are some real stinkers and the work on art criticism was somewhat lost on me.


Comfort zone! At this point I think I could read a Henry Miller book backwards and it wouldn't really make a difference what I think of it. His language is so glittery that there should be sequins on the pages.

Tom Lichtenberg

Reading the prologue to this book by Henry Miller astonishes me. Written 70 years ago, it could have been written today. Some excerpts:It is a world suited for monomaniacs obsessed with the idea of progress - but a false progress, a progress which stinks. It is a world cluttered with useless objects which men and women, in order to be exploited and degraded, are taught to regard as useful ... Whatever does not lend itself to being bought or sold ... is debarredWe are accustomed to think of ourselves as an emancipated people; we say that we are democratic, liberty-loving, free of prejudices and hatred. This is the melting pot, the seat of a great human experiment. Beautiful words, full of noble, idealistic sentiment. Actually we are a vulgar, pushing mob whose passions are easily mobilized by demagogues, newspaper men, religious quacks, agitators and such like. To call this a society of free peoples is blasphemous. What have we to offer the world beside the superabundant loot which we recklessly plunder from the earth under the maniacal delusion that this insane activity represents progress and enlightenment?


It's great to read some one's long rambling explanation about how much they hate America during a presidential campaign.

F.J. Nanic

I am just amazed how many Americans have not even heard about this book...but then again, many didn't hear about Depleted Uranium Weapons either.


First of all, Henry Miller's mastery of the English language ifar exceeds most anyone you are likely to read. He is in that elite class of great writers. Secondly, when you read any of his books, letters, essays and whatnot, you feel is is right there in the room, cafe, or on the street with you, so conversational is he. In this book AIR CONDITIONED NIGHTMARE, he writes about a year on the road in the US, he was contracted to write about by his agent. What he found was a lot of sterile robotic buildings and people. As he said, it was a waste of a year in his life. It is an eye opening book about a land where imagination is difficult to find, sense of adventure minuscule, where the people are essentially lemmings, glomming along, while at the same time filled with a sense of arrogance because they get the sense of themselves not by intelligence, and insight, but by the fact that their country is big, robust, has a powerful military and is financially strong, which in the end has little or no meaning where the human condition, and their interaction with others, their land, is concerned. He found a country with no sense of culture, a country defining itself by how much money a person makes, which disgusted him. After having read this book, and having been back and forth in the US, the book rang so true I have not traveled it since. It is just a bunch of sameness from one end to the other. Naturally, some places are worse than others.

S.J. Pettersson

Henry Miller frequently wrote about great titles of books that he came across. He himself produced a notable amount of great titles such as the title of this book written upon his return to the US after his years in France and a brief sojourn in Greece. Miller was truly a linguistic anarchist, a semantic villain of the rarest kind who in his heart of hearts truly believed that the typewriter was heavier than the pen. They say that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover (I have a friend who for instance chooses which wine she buys by the "pretty- ness" of the labels, while I myself choose my wine, out of dire necessity it should be noted, by it's price tag), but judging a book by it's title; now that is a different matter altogether!I myself have written a great number of fancy titles, some of them with covers, some without a cover, but practically all of them without any content as of yet.Here are some examples:East of the EquatorDeath, Shackles and the Pursuit of MiseryJesus Saved Me, But He Let My Brother Drown - The Dark Side of ReligionProfound Nonsense and other Poems of NothingnessThe Inverted VertebraeAn Antidote For LifeThe Nightmares of an InsomniacSpherical Cubism & other failed Art Movements of the 20th CenturyThe Equinox ParadoxOccham's Toothbrush - The Art of Bathroom PhilosophyThe Divisibility of InfinityPavlov's Cat meet Schrödinger's DogThe Evolution of Inanimate ObjectsAll these titles are hereby copyrighted by me for eventual use in case of emergency, literary or otherwise.


I found this to be a weak interpretation of what should be an epic road trip. There are wonderful moments of truthfulness, but for the most part the tone makes it seem like a stretch for a paycheck. I don’t believe that a man as brazen as Mr. Miller would continue a journey of this sort for such a long amount of time if he really hated it so. Why would he make this trip, come to these conclusions, and then retire in a country that banned his capstone works? He acts like he is making objective observations, but his descriptions American life are so emotive that he makes me feel like a fool for ever doubting him. That’s how I know he’s up to no good! The Tropic series is full of beauty and mystery, but this seems like he was starving in a public library scheming up ways to drum up some cash. As much as I dislike this book, I will admit that he noticed our throw-away culture before most people would have defined the beginning period: I have always heard that it was September of ’45 when everyone came back from the war with money in their pockets. We got the suburbs, and all the throw away convinces that came with them… Perhaps he was trying to write a book as throw-away as the society he found. If this was his intent –this man is a genius!

Marc Horton

Finally got around to this dyspeptic travelogue, in which Miller returns from Paris, travels around the late 1930's-early 1940's U.S. of A., and, apparently, throws up a little bit in his mouth daily from Mobile to Manhattan. What you imagine to be the quintessential Henry Miller voice is here--sort of like Tropic of Cancer without all the sex--and chock full of classic Miller bon mots: "The American park is a circumscribed vacuum filled with cataleptic nincompoops." Still, it had to have been worth it, no? Well,..: "When I think of what I would have seen in Europe, Asia or Africa, in the space of ten thousand miles, I feel as though I had been cheated." Worth picking up for the adventurous reader convinced that there was a time when American wasn't a cultural wasteland devoid of art, and tragically severed from nature.


Still reading....however, I will add that despite being published in 1945, I feel Miller's observations on American and European culture are timeless. He could be writing the same today. Extremely descriptive and passionate...I'll revise my review upon finishing.


I hadn't read Henry Miller since 2001 and forgot how brilliant his prose is in the service of indignation. That said, Miller's rage at American consumerism, corporatism, materialism, and all-around ignorance -- a feeling with which I duly agree -- once in a while, but far too often, sails past insightfulness and lands in the realm of self-righteousness, leading one to suspect that underneath his bohemian persona lies a secret aristocrat. This from the last chapter of The Air-Conditioned Nightmare:"In Mississippi, near the banks of the great river itself, I came upon the ruins of Windsor. Nothing now remains of this great house but the high, vine-covered Grecian columns. There are so many elegant and mysterious ruins throughout the South, so much death and desolation, so much ghostliness. And always in the fairest spots, as if the invader aiming at the vital centers struck also at the pride and hope of his victim. One is inevitably induced to reflect on what might have been had this promising land been spared the ravages of war, for in our Southern States that culture known as the 'slave culture' had exhibited only its first blossoms. We know what the slave cultures of India, Egypt, Rome and Greece bequeathed the world. We are grateful for the legacy; we do not spurn the gift because it was born of injustice. Rare is the man who, looking upon the treasures of antiquity, thinks at what an iniquitous price they were fashioned. Who has the courage, confronted with these miracles of the past, to exclaim: 'Better these things had never been than that one single human being had been deprived of his rightful freedom.'"In other words, the end justifies the means. (And isn't history dialectical? Cannot one look upon such marvels and think of not only their beauty but also at what price they were fashioned?)(Also, I wasn't much interested in the chapters about Miller's artist friends. Seemed to belong to another book. I was expecting something big about America, and The Air-Conditioned Nightmare seemed to frequently run from that artistic task.)

Kathy Conde

I often didn't agree with what he said, but I always enjoyed how he said it. Quote from page 192: "The duck is plucked, the air is moist, the tide's out and the goat's securely tethered. The wind is from the bay, the oysters are from the muck. Nothing is too exciting to drown the pluck-pluck of the mandolins. The slugs move from slat to slat; their little hearts beat fast, their brains fill with swill. By evening it's all moonlight on the bay. The lions are still affably baffled and whatever snorts, spits, fumes and hisses is properly snaffled."

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