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
"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
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.
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.
A history of the planning, construction, and impact of the U.S. interstate highway system.
“Travelers hitting the highways this summer might better appreciate the asphalt beneath their tires thanks to this engrossing history of the creation of the U.S. interstate system.”—Los Angeles Times
Perhaps nothing changed the face of America more than the creation of the interstate system. At once man-made wonders, economic pipelines, agents of sprawl, and uniquely American sirens of escape, the interstates snake into every aspect of modern life. The Big Roads documents their historic creation and the many people they’ve affected, from the speed demon who inspired a primitive web of dirt auto trails, to the cadre of largely forgotten technocrats who planned the system years before Ike reached the White House, to the thousands of city dwellers who resisted the concrete juggernaut when it bore down on their neighborhoods.
The Big Roads tells the story of this essential feature of the landscape we have come to take for granted. With a view toward players both great and small, Swift gives readers the full story of one of America’s greatest engineering achievements.
“Engaging, informative . . . The first thorough history of the expressway system.”—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“The book is a road geek’s treasure—and everyone who travels the highways ought to know these stories.”—Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
EARL SWIFT is the author of three previous books, including Where They Lay, a 2003 PEN finalist. He lives in Virginia with his daughter Saylor.
Table of Contents
Out of the Mud 9
Connecting the Dots 63
The Crooked Straight, the Rough Places Plain 155
The Human Obstacle 225