author: Colin Woodard
average rating: 4.11
book published: 2011
read at: 2013/09/26
date added: 2013/09/26
shelves: history, non-fiction, politics, sociology
I really enjoyed most of this book. It gives a different perspective on large sweeps of American history, but in a way that’s immediately intuitive for someone who’s read quite a bit of history. I especially appreciated the colonial and antebellum sections, and the early chapters on El Norte included a lot that was entirely new to me. It definitely gives me a new and useful framework for thinking about American culture and politics. (Goes well with The Big Sort, which is to some extent about individual choices reinforcing those national identities.) It was so engrossing that I really truly couldn’t put it down.
On the other hand, it didn’t feel quite as thorough or deep after the start of the twentieth century, and that was where my interest drifted. Some things I would have liked to have seen covered in more depth:
* African-American migration out of the South and Asian-American influences on the Left Coast. The coverage of non-European non-Native people wasn’t really that great, honestly. He’s strongest talking about European-derived cultures, and I think there’s a lot to explore in the black and Asian experience in particular.
* The culture of Los Angeles specifically (I’m coming to the opinion that LA is a fractal of the nation as a whole) — also, I don’t know much about Chicago, but my opinions about LA lead me to the conclusion that the other gigantic American city might be special too.
* The role of 20th century mass media (and the internet?!) in reducing and/or reinforcing the separation of the nations — this is where the research in The Big Sort could have come in handy.
* The First Nations chapter at the end might have benefited from a bit of discussion of the Native populations of the Far West & Left Coast.
A tiny thing that’s been bugging me: he described Obama as a member of the “Northern nations”, and a footnote details that although he spent his early years entirely outside of the nations in the book (Hawaii, Indonesia), he spent his adult life mostly in the Northern nations. But his mother and grandparents were from Kansas; might one look at him differently if the Midlander or Far West background (I don’t remember what part of Kansas) were taken into account? (Also: fractal America, like LA? Where he also lived as a teen IIRC.)