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:
- Why West Virginia has a finger creeping up the side of Pennsylvania
- Why Michigan has an upper peninsula that isn't attached to Michigan
- Why some Hawaiian islands are not Hawaii
- Why Texas and California are so outsized, especially when so many Midwestern states are nearly identical in size
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
“Give me the splendid irregularities any day. God bless the panhandles and notches, the West Virginias and Oklahomas.” Wall Street Journal
“For anyone whos been confounded by the largest of all jigsaw puzzles, the one that carved out those fifty weirdly formed states, here is the solution. Its history, its geography, its comedy, its indispensable.” ANDRO LINKLATER, author of The Fabric of America: How Our Borders and Boundaries Shaped the Country and Forged Our National Identity
“A fascinating and wonderfully entertaining account of an often-overlooked oddity of Americas history: how the jigsaw-puzzle layout of the United States emerged. I never thought a book on geography could be funny, but Mark Stein has pulled it off.” Vogue
About the Author
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 writing and drama at American University and Catholic University and lives in Washington, D.C.