The Economist: The view from Vandalia

For many Americans, rural spots such as Vandalia are increasingly mysterious, drifting further and further away from larger cities in their values, politics and economics. Vandalia offers a unique viewing point. Like lots of Midwestern towns it is ringed by farms, has a fine, brick-built main street, and boasts a single high school and many churches (Vandalia has 18, or one church for every 300 permanent residents). But it stands out for its role in a sociological experiment of half a century ago, when its inner workings were studied by the writer Joseph Lyford. His book-length report, “The Talk in Vandalia”, prompted a local stink, admiring national headlines and a television film. Fifty years on, it offers a chance to trace the long-term forces buffeting such places.