An illuminating history of North America's 11 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. Subsequent immigrants didn't confront or assimilate into an "American" or "Canadian" culture, but rather into one of the 11 distinct regional ones that spread over the continent, each staking out mutually exclusive territory.
In 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.
Woodard 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 county/red 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.
©2011 Colin Woodward (P)2011 Gildan Media Corp
"Woodard offers a fascinating way to parse American (writ large) politics and history in this excellent book." (Kirkus)
"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)
I am the author of two books on global issues, who listens to at least a hundred serious non-fiction books a year.
The thesis of American Nations is that America can best be understood as a series of eleven regional cultures. American history can thus be best understood as the outcomes of interactions amongst these several cultures. There is, of course, nothing new in viewing American culture as a series of encounters between North and South. And political analysts regularly take note of regional differences in voting patterns.
But Woodard goes deeper, exploring the history that shaped not just North and South and West. Woodard includes the French culture of Louisiana and Quebec and the culture of El Norte, which spans not just large swathes of the Southwest United States but also much of northern Mexico. He also divides the South into the Deep South, the Tidewater of Virginia, and Appalachia. He notes differences between Yankee New Englanders and the diverse Dutch culture of New York (this is only confusing because of the name of a baseball team). He differentiates the Left Coast from the more libertarian western rockies region. The nuances strengthen the thesis, because they make regional explanations work better.
Woodard delves deeply into the original groups of settlers that laid down the patterns of these regional cultures. He then demonstrates how these cultures attracted other like-minded cultures. For instance, the non-violent Quakers of Pennsylvania attracted German farmers, who then pushed into the Midwest. This shared culture, in turn, attracted the highly cooperative Scandinavians. Over time, they moderated between the Yankees of New England and the Deep South.
Woodard traces the patterns of migrations that took say the Scotch-Irish from upstate New York south along the Appalachians. He traces patterns of voting behavior, patterns of regional alignment, and the sources of power in American politics. All of this holds extraordinary explanatory value. And it makes for a very interesting and entertaining listen.
However, it is not altogether clear what Woodard thinks holds these cultures together over time. To believe his thesis, we would need to negate environmental, economic, and political explanations of behavior. Somehow, we would have to account for how in moving from agricultural to industrial to post-industrial society, these cultural difference have somehow held. Altogether, these concerns suggest the thesis is overstated, that understanding these regional sub-cultures is merely one important strand in understanding what makes America work.
But as we become an increasingly diverse culture, it is heartening to look back upon our shared history not as some ever shifting monolith, but rather as a series of conflicts and compromises amongst quite different sub-cultures. For recognizing how our institutions have already accommodated so much difference, of not just immigrants but of the most deeply American patriots, suggests that we have more resources for integrating diversity than we might believe.
The book made me look at our nation differently. It laid down a paradigm through which I viewed the next couple of dozen American history books I read after it. It is hard to ask more of a history book. Certainly it holds more explanatory power than much longer books like Paul Johnson's "History of the American People." If you choose to read American Nations and you like it, check out, "Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement," by David Hackett Fischer. It is at one and the same time more specific and more academic and also a great listen. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
I love to read. On average I read and/or listen to more than 100 books a year. Audible has been a fantastic addition to my life. Love it!
I enjoyed this book. The author makes no secret of his yankee leanings, and is clearly anti-dixie. That being said, I still enjoyed the analysis; especially the speculation about possible futures in the last quarter of the book. I'm not a huge reader of history for fun. This was an excellent blend of history and supposition. It was light enough to interest any reader, and yet insightful/researched enough to keep history buffs engaged. All in all a good read.
I stumbled into this book at a Barnes and Noble, and while I did not buy it, I made a mental note to listen to it on here. Extremely glad I did.
Woodward essentially builds off of earlier works to spell out eleven regional cultures that he argues make up the US (minus Polynesian Hawaii and Latin-Caribbean south Florida), Canada, and northern Mexico. Here's a few of them.
First Nations: Encompassing Northern Canada, Greenland, much of the Yukon and Alaska. The "First Nations" of course refers to areas where Native Americans (and their values) still are predominant.
El Norte; The first non-native regional culture to develop. Essentially a pioneer Latino psyche, born on the fringes of Mexico, and what would become the Southwestern US after 1848.
Tidewater: The region including North Carolina, some of Maryland, Virginia proper, and Delaware. Centered on the Chesapeake, this was the first region inhabited by English-speaking colonists.
Interestingly, Woodward includes the greater New York City Metro Area as it's own culture, and makes an excellent case for it. He argues that "New Netherland" is not much different from its early Dutch roots today.
Yankeedom, is essentially New England and its most direct diaspora, stretching West bordering Canada over to the easternmost counties of the Dakotas. Yankeedom also includes New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in Canada. Yankeedom was founded by the Puritans...the Pilgrims...who first set foot in the region in 1620.
Woodward argues that most political issues in US history were in fact motivated by regional differences and rivalries. While Woodward shows his own colors at the very end of the book he is very unbiased throughout the rest; hard-right Conservatives may hate the idea that their modern ideas on economic deregulation, cheap labor, and a powerful 1% is largely born of Deep South influence. Very cosmopolitan, secular, Progressives may cringe to learn that their beliefs owe a lot to the plain, very religious, paternalistic Puritans.
If you're interested in American politics this is a must-listen.
If you have ever wondered why Americans seem destined to argue past each other on all matters politics, this book provides a plausible explanation. Sorry, those that disagree with you are not idiots, but were likely raised in a different "national" culture. Woodard presents American history and current political loggerheads through the lens of the cultures of the different groups who colonized and now populate North America.
The narrator as a soothing voice that made me want to sleep. I wish I had gotten the paper version. The content is very interesting but as an audible it put me to sleep.
34 Year old artist and game designer currently working in film. Married, and a dog owner in sunny Venice, CA
This book is simply outstanding from cover to cover. As someone is a rabid consumer of US history I'm left feeling like a sports fan who just realized he has been watching a game playing out his entire life and only now is recognizing who is on what team. This book is incredibly well researched and provides a deeply contextualized history of the US's many regional states and cultural paradigms. I really cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone interested in politics or American history.
The well researched and written histories of the states and their ethnic origins creates a much more interesting narrative than the generic right/left debate we all believe we live in.
A political primer that isnt 20th century revisionist nonsense
Buy this book
The author submits some interesting ideas that give you lots of things to ponder. I'll read it again some time just to see if I missed anything.
No one "memorable" moment. The book was a good consistent read from front o back.
I don't really pay attention to who the readers are. I prefer books that are read by the authors themselves.
The concept of thinking of North America in more logical terms rather than the rather random political borders.
Toward the end of the book, I thought the author's arguments did not keep up with a changing world. To me the author's "regions" make more sense in a 19th century context than in the 21st century.
Yes, there's plenty of meat on the bone for a second listen.
It provides a framework from which to understand many peculiarities of culture that separate the various "nations" of America. I think it can provide a more rational way of understanding some of the deeply rooted differences that tend to exasperate without proper context.
If I were to level a criticism, it would be that Woodard gets a bit too personal at the end of the book.
I'm a bibliophile since early childhood. Love speculative fiction, odd premises, mystery novels that teach about different places and times.
This has more sense about American heritage and politics in it than anything else I've ever read. Past really is prelude, and where we come from really does resonate through time.
If nothing else, it clarifies how different areas make their decisions and what they perceive as democracy. Get ready for the fact that it's not homogenous or the same.
Illuminating, stimulating, indispensable
This book made me understand America as never before (and I have read or listened to more than one book on American history).
The question is not really appropriate, but if I had to answer, it would be William Penn who founded Pennsylvania. Walter Dixon is an excellent reader.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone with any interest interest in America, and even to those who don't think they do. More than any other book I know or indeed imagined possible, it sheds light on what America is and how it came to be. The opportunity to read (listen to) this book is itself reason enough for me to feel thankful to be alive in 2014.
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