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How the States Got Their Shapesby Mark Stein
Thursday, August 28, 2014 07:30 PM
Powell's City of Books on Burnside, Portland, OR
In American Panic: A History of Who Scares Us and Why (Palgrave Macmillan), Mark Stein, author of How the States Got Their Shapes, traces the history and consequences of American political panics through the years. Virtually every American, on one level or another, falls victim to the hype, intensity, and propaganda that accompany political panic, regardless of their own personal affiliations. By highlighting the similarities between American political panics from the Salem witch hunt to present-day vehemence over issues such as Latino immigration, gay marriage, and the construction of mosques, Stein closely examines just what it is that causes us as a nation to overreact in the face of widespread and potentially profound change. Striking similarities in these diverse episodes are revealed in primary documents Stein has unearthed, in which statements from the past could easily be mistaken for statements today. As these similarities come to light, Stein reveals why some people become panicked over particular issues when others do not.
"This is the sort of book that sells itself — all I really need to do is let people know it exists....Ever wondered why Oklahoma has its panhandle? Why is Michigan in two chunks, one of which looks like it should belong to Wisconsin? Why is South Carolina so much smaller than North Carolina? How come Wyoming takes a corner out of Utah, rather than vice versa? Why is Maryland such a strange shape that almost pinches off in the middle?" Doug Brown, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
Why does Oklahoma have that panhandle? Did someone make a mistake?
We are so familiar with the map of the United States that our state borders seem as much a part of nature as mountains and rivers. Even the oddities — the entire state of Maryland(!) — have become so engrained that our map might as well be a giant jigsaw puzzle designed by Divine Providence. But that's where the real mystery begins. Every edge of the familiar wooden jigsaw pieces of our childhood represents a revealing moment of history and of, well, humans drawing lines in the sand.
How the States Got Their Shapes is the first book to tackle why our state lines are where they are. Here are the stories behind the stories, right down to the tiny northward jog at the eastern end of Tennessee and the teeny-tiny (and little known) parts of Delaware that are not attached to Delaware but to New Jersey.
How the States Got Their Shapes examines:
Packed with fun oddities and trivia, this entertaining guide also reveals the major fault lines of American history, from ideological intrigues and religious intolerance to major territorial acquisitions. Adding the fresh lens of local geographic disputes, military skirmishes, and land grabs, Mark Stein shows how the seemingly haphazard puzzle pieces of our nation fit together perfectly.
"America's first century was defined by expansion and the negotiation of territories among areas colonized by the French and Spanish, or occupied by natives. The exact location of borders became paramount; playwright and screenwriter Stein amasses the story of each state's border, channeling them into a cohesive whole. Proceeding through the states alphabetically, Stein takes the innovative step of addressing each border-north, south, east, west-separately. Border stories shine a spotlight on many aspects of American history: the 49th parallel was chosen for the northern borders of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana because they ensured England's access to the Great Lakes, vital to their fur trade; in 1846, Washington D.C. residents south of the Potomac successfully petitioned to rejoin Virginia (called both 'retrocession' and 'a crime') in order to keep out free African-Americans. Aside from tales of violent conquest and political glad-handing, there's early, breathtaking tales of American politicos' favorite sport, gerrymandering (in 1864, Idaho judge Sidney Edgerton single-handedly 'derailed' Idaho's proposed boundary, to Montana's benefit, with $2,000 in gold). American history enthusiasts should be captivated by this fun, informative text." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Stein explores the borders of each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia....If you ever wondered why Delaware owns a small portion of the southwest New Jersey coast, the answer is here!" Library Journal
In a light, accessible style — and packed with fun oddities and trivia — this entertaining guide by playwright and screenwriter Stein deciphers the mysteries of the American map, state by state. 180 b&w maps.
Mark Stein is a playwright and screenwriter. His plays have been performed off-Broadway and at theaters throughout the country. His films include Housesitter, with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. He has taught at American University and Catholic University.
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