The Air-Conditioned Nightmare


milleraircon.jpgThough Henry Miller’s book on Greece, The Colossus of Maroussi, is generally regarded as his greatest achievement, he also wrote a second travel book which should be regarded as a definite classic of the genre.

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare chronicles Miller’s return to America in 1939, hot on the heels of the Greek trip referred to above, and from what he believed would be an open-ended life in France. The journey begins on a note of hope: “I wanted to have a last look at my country and leave it with a good taste in my mouth. I didn’t want to run away from it, as I had originally. I wanted to embrace it, to feel that the old wounds were really healed.” Instead, he finds despair: a nation where giant industries deaden the lives of their workers while polluting the environment, and a population which seeks nothing greater than credit, cheap cars, and vapid mass consumerism. It says a great deal that many of Miller’s scathing critiques are just as relevant today.

And yet the book contains a note of hope. It’s also a celebration of those rare individuals — eccentrics, artists, and creative people of all stripes — whose stubborn resilience represents everything that made the nation great in the first place.

A few years after this trip, Miller finally made peace with the land of his birth. He found his paradise in Big Sur, California, and that is where he lived out the rest of his life.



About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • It’s Miller’s honesty that makes him such an interesting writer. Love or loathe his work, and its constant focus on the inner man (himself), you can’t fault him for trying at all times to tell it as it was. Which has to be a fine attribute for a travel book!

  • I completely agree. I love Miller’s writing. He was pretty awful at self-editing and there can be a lot of excess to wade through, but when he’s on his game he’s brilliant. There are some long, unfocused parts in Airconditioned Nightmare, but his rants in this book are some of his best. And in terms of travel lit, i appreciate how insightful his observations were, and how so many of them remain true even today. He really nails the national character of his native land.

  • hello,
    coach murdock, his reason for returning to america is an interesting one. not many in his position would be prepared (mentally) for such an undertaking.


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