The Eye You See With: Selected Nonfiction

by Robert Stone and Madison Smartt Bell

The definitive collection of nonfiction—from war reporting to literary criticism to the sharpest political writing—from the “legend of American letters” (Vanity Fair)

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780618386246
  • ISBN-10: 0618386246
  • Pages: 384
  • Publication Date: 03/03/2020
  • Carton Quantity: 12

About the book

The definitive collection of nonfiction—from war reporting to literary criticism to the sharpest political writing—from the “legend of American letters” (Vanity Fair) 


Robert Stone was a singular American writer, a visionary whose award-winning novels—including Dog Soldiers, Outerbridge Reach, and Damascus Gate—earned him comparisons to literary lions ranging from Samuel Beckett to Ernest Hemingway to Graham Greene. Stone had an almost prophetic grasp of the spirit of his age, which he captured with crystalline clarity in each of his novels. Of course, he was also a sharp and brilliant observer of American life, and his nonfiction writing is revelatory.   


The Eye You See With—the first and only collection of Robert Stone’s nonfiction—was carefully selected by award-winning novelist and Stone biographer Madison Smartt Bell. Divided into three sections, the collection includes the best of Stone’s war reporting, his writing on social change, and his reflections on the art of fiction. This is an extraordinary volume that offers up a clear-eyed look at the 20th century and secures Robert Stone’s place as one of the most original figures in all of American letters. 

About the author
Robert Stone

ROBERT STONE (1937–2015) was the acclaimed author of eight novels and two story collections, including Dog Soldiers, winner of the National Book Award, and Bear and His Daughter, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His memoir, Prime Green, was published in 2007.

Madison Smartt Bell

MADISON SMARTT BELLis the author of thirteen novels, including All Soul's Rising, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and two short story collections. In 2008, he received the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is currently a professor of English at Goucher College and lives in Baltimore, Maryland.


On a clear day in the spring of 1862, two orbs rose quietly into the skies above southeastern Virginia. For the soldiers in the Confederate encampment below, it must have been a wondrous, if demoralizing, sight. These strange forms were Union hot-air balloons, each with two observers in the basket, spies in the firmament. If the observers had cameras—and word was that they did—they would be able to produce perfect records of what they saw, instant maps of the Confederate positions that would soon, no doubt, be conveyed to the upper reaches of the Union Army’s chain of command. 


“We watched with anxious eyes their beautiful observations as they floated high up in the air,” Confederate general James Longstreet later wrote of the encounter. To Longstreet and his troops, it was clear they were witnessing a turning point in the history of war. It was also clear that there was nothing they could do about it. The balloons, Longstreet lamented, were “well out of range of our guns.” 


One hundred and fifty-five years later, on a searingly hot afternoon in June 2017, Steve Suddarth, a former US Air Force colonel, is radioing air traffic control for clearance to take off from Albuquerque International Sunport, the city’s main airport. The flight, he tells the tower, is a “photo mission.” Riding shotgun in Suddarth’s white single-prop Cessna, I am not sure I would have used such a mild term to describe our plan. The plane is equipped with a military-grade surveillance camera, and we intend to watch wide tracts of the city in a way many of its residents probably never imagined was even possible. 


Air traffic control grants us free rein within a broad swath of airspace 12,000 feet directly above the city center. As we climb out of the airport through the choppy desert air, the landscape falls quickly from our wings. Soon enough, the entire town lies rolled out below us, shimmering in the afternoon sun. 


Mounted on the windshield is a tablet displaying a satellite map of the city. Using a wireless keyboard he keeps stowed beside his seat, Suddarth clicks on a large white building in the center of town and a new image appears on the screen. It looks like a satellite picture, superimposed perfectly over the first, showing all the same buildings and roads. But when Suddarth zooms in, the image becomes like a sample of pond water seen through a microscope—full of life. There are cars, trucks, and buses on the streets, stopping and starting at traffic lights, turning at junctions, parking along sidewalks. Everything is moving. This is live video delivered from the camera. The frame covers two-dozen city blocks. 


Suddarth explains that the camera is linked to the Cessna’s autopilot, which is programmed to steer the airplane in such a way that the target area never falls out of the frame. To demonstrate, Suddarth takes his hands off the controls, and without pause the airplane pitches left. Once the airplane finds itself in range, he says, the camera will put us into a wide circular orbit. Our particular target—a mall, Suddarth tells me cheerfully—remains dead center on the screen.

After completing the loop, we swing the camera over to the University of New Mexico. On the athletics field, tiny shadows dart about on the screen: students exercising. 


From the university, we turn to Sandia Heights, an affluent neighborhood on the northeastern edge of the city. Using the tablet, I zoom in on a four-lane road cutting across the area. A bright blue car is turning onto a tree-lined street. I follow it. Suddarth is talking about the system’s technical details, but I am absorbed in the story unfolding before me. The car is driving slowly, and it seems to be meandering. Maybe they’re lost, I think, or perhaps they’re on a joyride. Or maybe they’re up to something. 


And then, sitting in this odd little plane steered by a robotic camera, I start to feel uncomfortable. The people in the car don’t know they are being watched. Even if they did, like Longstreet and his soldiers there is not much they could do about it. More to the point, I am troubled because, whatever their story, it is none of my business. 


The story of how we got here, though, is my business, and theirs too. Even before 1862—before, even, the advent of manned flight—it was obvious that an eye in the sky would be a great military asset. As seen from above, your adversary is an open book. You can determine where they’re hiding, track them wherever they go, even anticipate their next move. By the First World War, every major military power had eyes in the sky, with dramatic consequences for those on the ground.


One of Publishers Weekly's Top 10 "Essays & Literary Criticism" for Spring 2020 


"They called [Robert Stone] a prophet in his time. A writer of ideas and character. An American cross of Greene and Conrad, with a dash of ole’ dead Melville for good measure...A new book of essays collects Stone’s best and most penetrating political journalism...What unites The Eye You See With is Stone’s staunch, singular vision. It’s ironic, sad, hopeful." 

—Matt Gallagher, LitHub, "Robert Stone's Journalism Set New Moral and Artistic High-Water Marks" 


"Fine pieces...Nonfiction can show [Stone] at his most playful." 

—Joy Williams, Bookforum


"Novelist Bell presents a sterling collection of essays on literature, culture, politics, and war by the late Stone (1937–2015), best known for his National Book Award–winning novel Dog Soldiers. Spanning the 1970s to the aughts, the essays demonstrates Stone’s remarkable capacity for capturing an era’s ethos while making larger, and still current, points...Throughout, Bell provides useful biographical information, which in combination with the essays provides a vivid portrait of Stone’s background and guiding philosophy. Fans of Stone’s novels will especially appreciate the insight, but any reader of narrative nonfiction will find plenty of interest in this fine collection." 

Publishers Weekly 


"This first collection of Stone's nonfiction, edited by his biographer, Madison Smartt Bell [...] showcases the same dizzying welter of ideas and passions that defines Stone's landmark fiction...In [Stone's essay] 'What Fiction Is For,' he says that 'art is the only medium we have for removing a moment from the whirl of events and placing it under scrutiny in all its dimensions.' These essays, however, argue persuasively that, for Stone, nonfiction can do the same thing." 



"Robert Stone was one of those novelists who try to wrap their arms around America itself...A look back at the writer and his work, especially his earliest novels, turns out to be well timed. In books that deserve to endure, Stone anticipates the present in surprising, unsettling ways...[He was] a novelist who transformed our aspirations and follies into literature." 

—Ernesto Artillo, The Atlantic


"In addition to the biography, Child of Light, Bell has skillfully edited The Eye You See With, a broad selection of the novelist’s articles, essays, and other nonfiction pieces. The subjects Stone wrote about, as in his novels, range from accounts of the ravages of war in Vietnam to richly textured travel pieces set in Havana, Jerusalem, and other hot spots in-between...Stone got it right about the war, of course, and the disastrous effects on a generation of Americans. In both his fiction and nonfiction, he spoke in a uniquely mordant voice, in language that rang true in both high and low registers. Stone looked the heart of darkness in the eye and never flinched...The Eye You See With should drive admirers back to the work that first galvanized Robert Stone’s readers in the ‘70s and ‘80s." 

Lee Polevoi,Highbrow Magazine