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Staff Book Review: American Nations

[Tommy Meyerson is one of the capable interns who keeps the traffic moving on Via Meadia.  As one of WRM’s students at Yale he found the transition to working on the blog easy; we are losing him this month to the USMC.  Their gain, our loss.  From time to time interns and other Team Mead associates contribute book reviews or other articles under their own name to the blog; the following book review is by Tommy Meyerson.]

A fascinating book on American regionalism is just out by journalist Colin Woodard. In American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, he explores the different cultures that he depicts as 11 different “nations” within the United States. You can quibble with his definitions and descriptions (and as a Maine Yankee he is of course subject to his own regional bias!) but his characterization of cultures such as Appalachia, Midlands, and “Yankeedom” as distinct entities with centuries-old formative histories – but which are as discrete and influential as ever – is insightful and important for understanding this strikingly diverse country. It’s an argument that demographers and historians have been teasing out for decades and that anyone who follows red-state blue-state politics can intuit, but which few in the general public ever actually identify. Check out some short articles by Woodard for a taste of what he’s talking about.

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  • Paul

    Judging from the little available and linked, it sounds like a breathless and shallow imitation of DH Fischer’s “Albion’s Seed.”

  • WigWag

    Thank you very much for the book review, Mr. Meyerson, and best of luck to you in the USMC!

  • Luke Lea

    So where are the links to parts 3, 4, and 5? I want to read them.

  • Toni

    Thanks for the tip, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service.

  • Anthony

    “U.S. is a confederation composed of the whole or parts of 11 disparate regional cultures….” Review is an insightful look beneath the surface view of the iceberg. Thanks Mr. Meyerson and honor and growth at USMC.

  • MarkE

    The part of Florida where I live is unlabeled on the cover diagram. How is this lack of attention of detail accounted for?

  • Kenny

    Good & insightful posting.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Less like Albion’s Seed than the now 30 year old The Nine Nations of North America.

    Woodward relies upon Wilbur Zelinsky’s Doctrine of First Effective Settlement.

    “Whenever an empty territory undergoes settlement, or an earlier population is dislodged by invaders, the specific characteristics of the first group able to effect a viable, self-perpetuating society are of crucial significance for the later social and cultural geography of the area, no matter how tiny the initial band of settlers may have been,” he wrote.

    Having read only the book’s cover I wonder how to explain dividing coastal California between The Left Coast and El Norte at San Luis Obispo? Were San Francisco and San Jose not effectively settled by the Spanish or were they dislodged by the ’49ers? All the way to San Luis Obispo?

    And that section on the strips of the Gerrymandered Midlands would be interesting to understand how they established the received pronunciation for the US.

    These kinds of books are interesting in that they look at history from the 50,000 foot level. But having lived in five of the “nations”, I believe that due to the ease of internal migration and the breadth of national media, the cultural commonalities are increasing and the differences moderating, regardless of Bishop and Cushing’s political Big Sort. I could be wrong, but one of the advantages of age is that I likely won’t live long enough to find out.

    In any case, Albion’s Seed is still the Gold standard of this sort of thing. Another classic that looks across a different dimension is Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069

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