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American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America Paperback – September 25, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“Fascinating . . . Engrossing . . . a smart read that feels particularly timely now, when so many would claim a mythically unified ‘founding Fathers’ as their political ancestors.”
—The Boston Globe
“[I]n offering us a way to better understand the forces at play in the rumpus room of current American politics, Colin Woodard has scored a true triumph.”
—The Daily Beast
“[C]ompelling and informative.”
—The Washington Post
“Mr. Woodard’s approach is breezier than [David Hackett] Fischer’s and more historical than [Joel] Garreau’s, but he has earned a place on the shelf between them."
—The Wall Street Journal
“[American Nations] sets itself apart by delving deep into history to trace our current divides to ethno-cultural differences that emerged during the country’s earliest settlement.”
—The New Republic, Editors’ Picks: Best Books of 2011
“Provocative reading.”
—News and Observer
“In American Nations, [Colin Woodard] persuasively reshapes our understanding of how the American political entity came to be. . . . [A] fascinating new take on history.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
American Nations by journalist-historian Colin Woodard is a superb book. Woodard makes a compelling argument that the United Sates was founded by contradictory regional convictions that continue to influence current attitudes and policy on a national level. . . . American Nations smashes the idea of political borders. . . . There is much to grapple with in this well-written book.”
—The Portland Press Herald
“[F]or people interested in American history and sociology, American Nations demands reading. . . . American Nations is important reading.”
—St. Louis Dispatch
“[I]f you want to better understand U.S. politics, history, and culture American Nations is to be required reading. . . . By revealing this continent of rivals, American Nations will revolutionize the way Americans think about their past, their country, and themselves and is sure to spark controversy.”
—The Herald Gazette
“Woodard persuasively argues that since the founding of the United States, eleven distinct geographical ‘nations’ have formed within the Union, each with its own identity and set of values.”
—Military History Quarterly
“Colin Woodard offers up an illuminating history of North America that explodes the red state-blue state myth. . . . Woodard’s American Nations is a revolutionary and revelatory take on America’s myriad identities, and how the conflicts between them have shaped our country’s past and mold its future.”
“One of the most original books I read in the last year. . . . During my five years as an Ambassador in the United States, I spent a lot of time studying the  voting patterns of  different states and reading American history, and I have to say I find Woodard’s thesis to be fully borne out by my own observations.”
—John Bruton, former Prime Minister of Ireland
“Woodard offers a fascinating way to parse American (writ large) politics and history in this excellent book.”
—Kirkus (starred review)
—Publishers Weekly
“[W]ell-researched analysis with appeal to both casual and scholarly readers.”
—Library Journal

About the Author

Colin Woodard is a Maine native and the author of Ocean’s End: Travels Through Endangered Seas. He is a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor and the San Francisco Chronicle.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143122029
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143122029
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (506 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Colin Woodard, an award-winning author and journalist, is State & National Affairs Writer for The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, and a longtime correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor and The Chronicle of Higher Education. His work has appeared in The Economist, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, Smithsonian, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Bloomberg View, Washington Monthly and dozens of other national and international publications. A native of Maine, he has reported from more than fifty foreign countries and six continents, and lived for more than four years in Eastern Europe during and after the collapse of communism. His investigative reporting for the Telegram won a 2012 George Polk Award.

His most recent book, "American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America", was named a Best Book of 2011 by the editors of The New Republic and the Globalist and won the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Non-Fiction. "The Republic of Pirates", a definitive biography of Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy, and other members of the most famous pirate gang in history, is the basis of the forthcoming NBC drama "Crossbones", starring John Malkovich.

He is also the author of the New England bestseller "The Lobster Coast", a cultural and environmental history of coastal Maine; "Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas", a narrative non-fiction account of the deterioration of the world's oceans.

A graduate of Tufts University and the University of Chicago, he lives in Midcoast Maine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

189 of 198 people found the following review helpful By meanders on May 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Colin Woodard has written the story of North America that should be taught in school in place of the simplified, sanitized, nearly fictional versions created, like all national histories, for the purpose of welding disparate peoples into a single nation by convincing them they all share a common history. I just got it back from loaning to a friend and re-read it. Like other reviewers here I had read Joel Garreau's "Nine Nations" in the 1980s and more recently Kevin Phillips' "The Cousins Wars" and Dante Chinni's "Patchwork Nation". They were full of interesting information, but Nine Nations and Patchwork Nation didn't address the origins or persistence of the notable regional differences among North Americans. I think Woodard's main thesis is that these regional cultures left their marks so deeply that we are no longer consciously aware of them, and should be. My experience living and working in several of these "nations" indicates that the regional differences do persist, though national media and advertising have masked them.

Reading "American Nations" I felt the pieces falling into place. I am undecided on the question of just how valid the thesis of eleven rival nations is as political science, but it makes for a fine explication of our history. And as cultural anthropology it provides the same level of explanatory power for understanding our cultural differences that the theory of evolution provided for understanding biology, or that the theory of plate tectonics did for understanding planetary-scale geologic processes.
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174 of 183 people found the following review helpful By EngrMan on November 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a remarkable book, synthesizing many earlier efforts to explain the distinct differences among different regions of the US - and Canada and part of Mexico too.

Some reviewers have stated that there is not much new here compared to Joel Garreau's 1980s book postulating 9 nations. I disagree - to me the historical thread tracing the origins of these differences are what makes it so compelling. Woodward's romp through that history is worth the price of the book. And there are startlingly different accounts of many of the historical events that are not covered in high school text books, that's for sure.

As a Canadian, it is interesting to see a treatment of history that, for Canadians, does not stop at the US border; and for Americans, does not stop a the Canadian (or Mexican) border.

I do agree with reviewers that Woodward's comments at the end of the book add too much personal opinion that diminishes the historical objectivity he shows elsewhere.

In summary, this is a compelling explanation of the enormous regional differences that make up the cultural and political landscape of America - and explains a lot about those same differences in Canada too. I strongly recommend this book to both those interested in North American History and those interested in its cultural and political trends.
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100 of 107 people found the following review helpful By C. P. Anderson on November 22, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
If you like your history big, all-encompassing, different, quirky, and bound to make you think, you'll love this one.

It's basically a follow-up to David Hackett Fisher's Albion's Seed. That book, which came out in 1989, posited 4 basic cultures that settled the US, and which continued to have a huge influence up to this day.

To those cultures (Puritan New England, Quaker Pennsylvania, Cavalier Tidewater, and Scots-Irish Appalachia), Woodard has added a few more (New Netherlands and the Deep South, for example), and extended coverage of them up to the current day. He does an excellent job showing how different the nations were at the time of the Revolution, and why uniting the country was as difficult as it was. He also shows how the different cultures extended across the landscape (for example, a Yankee influence in the Western Reserve of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota as well as a similar influence on the "Left Coast"). He does a good job showing how immigration fits in as well (basically, the original cultures were so strong that immigrants went where they fit in). Finally, he shows how the current impasse between red and blue states can all be tied back to a basic cultural division between Yankeedom and the Deep South. It really does help explain "what's the matter with Kansas?"
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77 of 82 people found the following review helpful By George F. Simons on August 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Given that North Americans by and large have been quite a migratory lot, is it possible that the author could label what we would normally and vaguely identify as "regional differences" as "nations" with powerful and distinct identities? Colin Woodard, historian and journalist would have us believe that even today the North American continent embraces eleven of these, which he describes as "rival regional cultures" that beg serious attention, if we are to understand and deal with North American politics, economics, and above all social values. Woodard would have us believe that "one nation indivisible" is a myth created and sustained to cover our incompatibilities and deter our further fragmentation.

Though I did not identify it as such at the time, my migration from Ohio to be educated in a Maryland highschool and later to take up a Fellowship to earn my doctorate in California in the mid-1970s involved substantial amounts of what we describe today as culture shock. Caught in the midst of what Woodard in retrospect calls "culture wars" I was mostly just humored by the bumper stickers worn on cars from the Pacific Northwest that read, "Don't Californicate Oregon," and "Water in Oregon is pasteurized: it flows through pasture after pasture,"--the aim was to deter the surge of unbridled urban expansion and development into pristine, "wide-open spaces."

Perhaps the key distinction here is that, according to the author, nations are what have culture; states try to create them.
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