In Search of America, by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster (Hyperion, 432 pages, $50).
Generally, I find that books contrived as commercial byproducts of extravagant television series seem more appropriate as doorstops than as the coffee-table ornaments that they are intended to be. This is an exception, and an impressively readable one. In their effort -- a successful and provocative one -- to find explicable meaning in contemporary America, the ABC news anchor and his producer chose six "arenas" -- race, government, business, immigration, religion and culture. Each is treated primarily as a journalistic story, set in specific communities in the United States, but the topics are expanded and elaborated by separate sections that give historic and conceptual context. The writing is sharp, clean but not for a moment trivial. The message is ultimately affirmative, though far from free of painful concerns. America, they find, is alive and well, but still struggling to fulfill its ideals. The television series was broadcast on ABC from Sept. 3 through Sept. 7.