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"Woodard offers a fascinating way to parse American (writ large) politics and history in this excellent book." ―Kirkus (starred review)
"Woodard explains away partisanship in American Nations... which makes the provocative claim that our culture wars are inevitable. North America was settled by groups with distinct political and religious value--and we haven't had a moment's peace since." --Publishers Weekly (Fall 2011 "Top Ten Politics" pick)
"A smart read that feels particularly timely now, when so many would claim a mythically unified "Founding Fathers'' as their political ancestors." -- Boston Globe
"A fascinating new take on our history" -- The Christian Science Monitor
"For people interested in American history and sociology, "American Nations" demands reading." -- St.Louis Post-Dispatch
"[In] 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 / Newsweek
"Woodard makes a worthwhile contribution by offering an accessible, well-researched analysis with appeal to both casual and scholarly readers." -- Library Journal
"[American Nations'] compelling explanations and apt descriptions will fascinate anyone with an interest in politics, regional culture, or history" -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"[A] compelling and informative attempt to make sense of the regional divides in North America in general and this country in particular....Woodard provides a bracing corrective to an accepted national narrative that too often overlooks regional variations to tell a simpler and more reassuring story. " -- The Washington Post
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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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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. He reminds us that the dynamic of artificial boundaries, "bringing states into existence" are a result of colonization or political gerrymandering, and not necessarily coherent or coterminous with the cultures of the people enclosed by them.Read more ›