The good first I buy the premise of this book, that the U.S 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 U.S colonies and what later became U.S 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 Netherlands Yankee 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 charity.I expected from this book a thoughtful consideration of the areas that don t quite 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 U.S map is just a qualification for his broad stroke stereotyping of the people in those regions What could have been a good synthesis of the acquisition and founding of U.S territory devolves into something flat and unconvincing often annoying.The writing is accessible but lazy, with inconsistent parentheses, recycled chapter openings, and formulaic sentence structures There are un cited quotes, and phrases put in gimmicky quotations 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. Journalist and amateur historian Colin Woodard makes a lot of interesting assertions on the back of thin evidence Splitting North America into eleven competing nations, or accurately, cultural archetypes, Woodard goes to great lengths to explain the history of the United States, not as a single hegemonic unit, but as many smaller, competing units within a federal framework Woodard himself explains his work as a synthesis, and looking through the footnotes of American Nations, one wonders at the paucity of original sources, or at the scarcity of secondary sources Woodard puts forth broad claims about the American history or regional characteristics on the strength of few sources, to wit McCullough s John Adams as the primary resource on the Adams presidency In all, Woodard s view of his pet regions remains terribly surface Though his argument is engagingly presented, Woodard s pessimistic impression, not only about the current state of inter regional solidarity, but about the entire history of inter regional solidarity, lends itself to Woodard s worldview and worse, his surface only approach to North American history The primary drive behind the book emerges in the final two chapters, where Woodard engages in straight faced left wing sloganeering, engineering the villainy of the Deep South against the social progressive good guys in so called Yankeedom Despite the shifting regional alliances from colonization to today mapped throughout the book, Woodard insists that the primary cultural movers retain the traditional North South focus despite his earlier explanation that such a cultural axis possessed complexity than he later shows In Woodard s estimation, all other regional groups are basically vassal states, one way or another, to this cultural axis.In the end, Woodard s view of regionalism, complete with names too cutesy to take seriously, presents interesting ideas, and a new way of interpreting old history, but cannot carry the freight necessary to make a compelling argument from the sources When Woodard begins to fantasize about a United States without the former Confederacy as a socialist paradise like Canada or Europe, he loses the thread of his own argument entirely and drifts into irrelevance Woodard ought to try his hand at Alternate History, and leave this rank fantasy behind. 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 usual stereotypes New Englanders are, of course, progressive, educated, and egalitarian, though he does admit to past intolerance I live here and let me tell you that is not quite the full story or even predominant characteristics of the people who live here His premise is that North America is made of of various nations, each with its own unique characteristics Left Coast, Yankeedom, Tidewater, Appalachia, Deep South etc While I agree with his assessment of the existence of the various nations, I don t agree with his boundaries He Has Appalachia extending from Western Pennsylvania to Eastern Texas I am sorry, but, not only are Texas and Pennsylvania very different cultures, Texas and the South whether Tidewater, Deep South or Appalachia are different cultures with different manners, accents, ways of doing things etc Texas is western than anything He also has Tidewater ending in northeastern North Carolina, while I would argue that it goes further south and further west as far as Charlotte He also claims that much of the Midwest is part of Yankeedom and barely discusses the enormous Scandinavian influence.I also think the author oversimplifies and generalizes too much He also fails to take into account the full influence of migration of all sorts of people to different areas Half the people who live in Dallas are not from there and the same is true of much of North Carolina where I m from and all of California He is from New England, arguably the most homogeneous and insular area of the country and assumes that the rest of the nations are like that also. 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 doomed.AdvertisementMany 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 state blue 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 drawing.In 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 frequent pleas for unity The key to the book s effectiveness is Woodard s skill and irreverence in delving into history with no qualms 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 U.S history, and Woodard seems particularly aghast at their eagerness to claim the U.S 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 squeezed into two short chapters near the end, in which Woodard explains how the balance of power in the U.S 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 study.This review originally appeared at 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 consequent 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 question the veracity of every historical fact listed in support of the author s viewpoint. I don t care how much American history you know, or think you know, this book, awkwardly sub titled A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures, is a revelation I ll give you an example of my own where is the oldest building made by Europeans in the U.S If you grew up in the Northeast, you re probably thinking it s in Boston or Philadelphia Went to school in the Southeast, maybe it s in St Augustine or New Orleans So where you grew up has a lot to do with what you think you know Don t believe me Then why isn t The Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, built ten years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, the first place that pops to mind Why isn t it as famous as Plymouth Rock Time and time again, this book reveals how our cultural roots from centuries ago still shape our worldview It is why politics in Oregon, with towns named after the places its early European settlers came from like Portland and Salem, has in common with New England than it does with the Midwest or California Proof that Faulkner was right, The past isn t dead It s not even past. My problem with broad stroke history books is that they are far too broad, and that you cannot really make claims or assertions because there simply isn t enough evidence provided to back them up Ultimately this is the greatest weakness of Woodard s book It s a very interesting premise, and one that I largely find to be true and intuitive if you travel and live in different places in this country I grew up in Nebraska, and found my time in North Carolina to be an interesting study, mostly in what self reliance meant to different people, because it s everything to the individual in my Germanic Midwestern upbringing, but had a communal definition in the south It s just that there wasn t enough evidence provided behind each separate American nation mentioned in the book to make a very strong argument I certainly think he COULD make a strong argument, but then this would have needed to be a series a books In a series of books there could have been a greater look at how the importation of various slave nations changed the language and cultures in Tidewater and the Deep South, and how they changed them differently There could have been a greater look at how these various cultures freed or repressed women and other minorities But it was a broad stroke book, and there was just no time for details.Still, it s probably a good, and important book for people to read that don t delve a lot into history It covers a good chunk of time, does spend at least some time looking at the treatment of the majority and the minority in each culture, and will make a lot of things on the news make sense Like, why can t we just all get along Short answer because we never have, and we probably never will It clips along at a pretty decent pace, so if you aren t an avid history reader which is totally fine, btw, I don t ever ready mysteries myself then this won t bore you, and will be a decent outline In particular I would have loved a much greater section on the newly growing but always present First Nation, particularly in Canada and other countries We could learn so much by increasing the inclusivity of native people s into our governments I would have also loved to read particularly about the El Norte power struggle Alas, like with so many books, I have found new and interesting information and just want to go further into the rabbit hole.3.5 out of 5, rounding down to 3 because it doesn t really belong in the 4 s with some of my favorite microcosm histories, but maybe you can just chalk that up to tastes If Woodard wrote about his theory, I would certainly continue to read about it, because I do think he has mostly hit the nail on the head as far as the larger culture goes I would also love to read about subcultures in those broader strokes. Our country finally makes sense The facts haven t changed, and even the history we were taught in high school and college retains its basic outlines But why we are the way we are, with all the frustrations we suffer because of our politics, our religions, our battling baffling cultural wars now I begin to understand.Of course we all knew that the parts of North America were settled by people with different wildly different, as it turns out origins But because American history as it s usually taught so heavily emphasizes what began with the Mayflower, all the other beginners are dismissed as outliers What Colin Woodard does is begin with all the founding groups, taking them at their face value Each group he names them Yankeedom, Midlands, Deep South, El Norte, Greater Appalachia, New France, The Far West, The Left Coast, New Netherland, Tidewater, and First Nation bore cultural expectations and political cultural desires, with in most cases an expectation of hegemony and control As the Nations expanded, they clashed Those clashes shine in today s political world, and they are likely to continue as long as North America is populated, for the nations do not blend easily My own family comes mostly from Yankeedom, which probably explains why I wrote my doctoral dissertation on John Milton But I have lived in Midlands, Tidewater, El Norte, and Deep South This book helps explain what I experienced.Woodard pulls you quickly into his story, and each of his Nations becomes a character fighting its way into the future He makes you understand their strengths and, especially, their failings You will be captivated by his story, written with such skill that you may find it hard to put down. 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 Subsequent Immigrants Didn T Confront Or Assimilate Into An American Or Canadian Culture, But Rather Into One Of The Eleven 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 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 I can t recommend this book highly enough It explains why the different territories of the country have the different political bents that they do And I learned facts about American history that I had never previously heard The ending gets a little too biased and subjective, but up until then it s fascinating.