“A Hologram for the King” is, among other things, an anguished investigation into how and where American self-confidence got lost and — in the central word another lonely expat uses for Alan — “defeated.” At one point, a fellow passenger on a plane mentions to Alan how even the Statue of Liberty is depicted moving forward, so committed is America to the future tense; four ­pages on, Alan recalls being told, at length, about how an all-important contract for blast-resistant glass in Freedom Tower, built on the ashes of the World Trade Center, has been given to a Chinese company, working (to compound the insult) from an American patent.In places, the book becomes almost a nostalgic lament for a time when life had stakes and people worked with their hands, knew struggle.


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