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American Nations

An illuminating history of North America's eleven rival cultural regions that explodes the red state blue state myth North America was settled by people with distinct religious political and ethnographic characteristics creating regional cultures that have been at odds with one another ever since Subseuent immigrants didn't confront or assimilate into an American or Canadian culture but rather into one of the eleven The good first I buy the premise of this book that the US is made up of rival nations with borders vastly different from the regions depicted on common maps of the country And I enjoyed the parts that seek to illustrate the founding and spreading of US colonies and what later became US territory When Woodard tries to characterize the people of the land however he brushes with broad unflattering strokes that I found hard to take seriously His discussion concerns missionaries slave lords congressmen etc yet he casually refers to Midlanders or Yankees as though he has provided any insight whatsoever to the women minority residents or political moderates of that region Woodard s personal prejudices are made most evident by the facts and events he chooses to discuss and the ones he ignores He laments the railway land grants in the Far West but handily excludes of any thoughtful consideration of New NetherlandsYankee ownership of these railroad companies He obviously lambasts the Deep South for its commitment to slavery but obscures New England s history of violent relations with Native Americans Other events are presented in contentious and sometimes bizarre ways Reconstruction in the South for example is described as a benevolent peaceful outpouring of New English charityI expected from this book a thoughtful consideration of the areas that don t uite fit the regions we ve often assigned them to Woodard s El Norte Tidewater and parts of Appalachia for example And the book s discussion of these areas is rewarding at times But in the long run his re drawing of the US map is just a ualification for his broad stroke stereotyping of the people in those regions What could have been a good synthesis of the acuisition and founding of US territory devolves into something flat and unconvincing often annoyingThe writing is accessible but lazy with inconsistent parentheses recycled chapter openings and formulaic sentence structures There are un cited uotes and phrases put in gimmicky uotations for no apparent reason other than that the author doesn t want to take responsibility for them Two stars is generous but it s a cool map

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D reveals how intranational differences have played a pivotal role at every point in the continent's history from the American Revolution and the Civil War to the tumultuous sixties and the blue countyred county maps of recent presidential elections American Nations is a revolutionary and revelatory take on America's myriad identities and how the conflicts between them have shaped our past and are molding our future Recommended with reservations the first half of the book covering the historical origins of the 11 diverse nations that comprise modern United States is brilliant For instance most people don t realize that the vibrant multicultural entity that is New York was just like that continuously all the way back to its founding as New Amsterdam which was the most diverse and progressive city of its time Or that Deep South was founded by Barbados plantators unlike the Tidewater area of Virginia and Maryland founded by recently transpanted gentry from England with conseuent differences in culture and policy Etc etc The second half of the book however is devoted to exposing the author s deeply partisan interpretation of the recent US history which is so biased that it makes one uestion the veracity of every historical fact listed in support of the author s viewpoint

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Distinct regional ones that spread over the continent each staking out mutually exclusive territoryIn American Nations Colin Woodard leads us on a journey through the history of our fractured continent and the rivalries and alliances between its component nations which conform to neither state nor international boundaries He illustrates and explains why American values vary sharply from one region to another Woodar Jon Stewart can t do it all alone The Daily Show has evolved toward open minded consideration of the issues of the day and less outright comedy because Stewart still thinks honest people of good faith can cut through the nonsense and figure out problems in a way any reasonable person can admit makes sense Colin Woodard s American Nations A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America pulls off the unlikely feat of both offering the tools for just such a broader deeper understanding and demonstrates why in a larger sense that effort is doomedAdvertisementMany readers will be skeptical at first and I was too No doubt Thomas Frank What s the Matter With Kansas How Conservatives Won the Heart of America and others have done valuable work in looking deeper than the familiar red stateblue state divide to try to explain why people in different regions think and vote the way they do But come on Eleven nations And right there in the map on the cover of Woodard s book we can see that the bottom half of Florida has simply been ignored included in no nation left uncolored as if by a kindergartner who got called to recess before he or she could finish drawingIn fact Woodard pulls it off He compellingly lays out his vision of why it makes sense to throw state boundaries out the window for the most part and think instead of 11 nations each defined by its history by a common culture and set of assumptions about government and life I always hated the term Left Coast the way any self respecting San Franciscan hates the term Frisco since it seemed to carry the hint that even someone like me fourth generation Californian on both sides was somehow not part of America Yes Woodard explains that is exactly right Left Coast culture running in a coastal strip from around just north of San Luis Obispo California up to British Columbia does in key respects stand apart from the Far West El Norte First Nation New France the Midlands Greater Appalachia the Deep South Tidewater the New Netherlands and Yankeedom The United States is a federation comprised of the whole or part of 11 regional nations some of which truly do not see eye to eye with one another America s most essential and abiding divisions are not between red states and blue states conservatives and liberals capital and labor blacks and whites the faithful and the secular Woodard writes in his introduction Rather our divisions stem from this fact the United States is a federation comprised of the whole or part of 11 regional nations some of which truly do not see eye to eye with one another Few have shown any indication that they are melting into some sort of unified American culture On the contrary since 1960 the fault lines between these nations have been growing wider fueling culture wars constitutional struggles and ever freuent pleas for unity The key to the book s effectiveness is Woodard s skill and irreverence in delving into history with no ualms about being both brisk and contrarian New Yorkers for example are not always going to feel great stirrings of pride in reading about the history of New Amsterdam especially the period shortly before the Civil War when residents of Manhattan were far from the forefront of anti slavery Yankees come off the worst though as important as they have been to US history and Woodard seems particularly aghast at their eagerness to claim the US narrative as their own He takes glee in pointing out that rebellion in the North American colonies against the rule of a distant king started not in the 1770s but in the 1680s and not as a united force of Americans eager to create a new nation but in a series of separate rebellions each seeking to preserve a distinct regional culture political system and religious tradition threatened by the distant seat of empire Rather than playing around with his concepts Woodard focuses most of the book on giving the history of each of his 11 nations we re than 250 pages in by the time he finishes off the Founding the Far West chapter What could have been an entire book length riff of its own The Struggle for Power gets sueezed into two short chapters near the end in which Woodard explains how the balance of power in the US has shifted based on how swing nations align themselves either with the northern alliance of Yankeedom the New Netherlands and the Left Coast or with the Dixie alliance the Deep South and Greater Appalachia joined by the junior partner Tidewater The better we understand the orientation of each of the nations the better we can grasp the way individual politicians have set about cobbling together support George W Bush may have been the son of a Yankee president and raised in far western Texas but he was a creature of east Texas where he lived built his political career found God and cultivated his business interests and political alliances he writes His domestic policy priorities as president were those of the Deep Southern oligarchy cut taxes for the wealthy privatize Social Security deregulate energy markets Meanwhile Bush garnered support among ordinary Dixie residents by advertising his fundamentalist Christian beliefs banning stem cell research and late term abortions and attempting to transfer government welfare programs to religious institutions I d have preferred to see application of the ideas to contemporary politics but maybe that will have to wait for the next book In the meantime American Nations may not leave much room for optimism about our dysfunctional political dynamic improving any time soon but 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 I am going to order copies for my father and sister immediately and I hope Woodard gets a wide hearing for this fascinating studyThis review originally appeared at


10 thoughts on “American Nations

  1. says:

    Growing up in the South I always wondered why my family was so different from those around us We were friendly with the people in our community but when serious discussions came up my parents grew uiet Our friends and neighbors had no such reservations They were opinionated and always eager for a fight of any kind whether with fists or words We lived side and by side and spoke the same language but I always got the sense that w

  2. says:

    The good first I buy the premise of this book that the US is made up of rival nations with borders vastly different from the regions depicted on common maps of the country And I enjoyed the parts that seek to illustrate the foundin

  3. says:

    It was good but particularly toward the end became the author's opinion rather than statistical evidence or other facts He is from Maine and allowed his predjudices to show According to him all Southerners comprised of Tidewater Deep South and Appalachia are Republicans conservative racist backward and so on with the usu

  4. says:

    Jon Stewart can’t do it all alone The Daily Show has evolved toward open minded consideration of the issues of the day and less outright comedy because Stewart still thinks honest people of good faith can cut through the nonsense and figure

  5. says:

    Journalist and amateur historian Colin Woodard makes a lot of interesting assertions on the back of thin evidence Splitting North Am

  6. says:

    I don't care how much American history you know or think you know this book awkwardly sub titled “A History of t

  7. says:

    I am very enthusiastic about this 2011 book and would recommend it heartily even to people who might not themselves be inclined to give it five stars Colin Woodard assigns all of North America to one of eleven regions as opposed to Joel Garreau's NINE NATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA back in 1981 In so doing Woodard ignored the southern tip of Flo

  8. says:

    I give this book 4 stars because his underlying observation is so cogent so obvious and so explanatory Just wonderful Anybody who sees and describes the reality that makes up the American nations deserves all the accolades we can throw at him At the same time the author's leftism leads him to say some inexcusably silly things parti

  9. says:

    Recommended with reservations; the first half of the book covering the historical origins of the 11 diverse nations that co

  10. says:

    My problem with broad stroke history books is that they are far too broad and that you cannot really make claims or asser

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