Review of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard

0617152145aThis book offers a breakdown and historical overview of what the author refers to as the 11 distinct ethno-geographical nations that make up the US and Canada. His broad history and analysis is mostly correct. You may be surprised at how well the history of colonial settlement, migrations, and assimilation connects and translates to today in a way that helps explain the socio-political characteristics and traits of the different American regions. Today’s political battles and cultural differences are direct product of the history of settlement and migration in the various regions of North America.  The author is writing from a secular perspective, and is left-leaning politically, although it doesn’t affect his analysis too much until the last chapters. I would recommend this book first of all for Americans to understand better what national culture they grew up in, based on where they are from, and how and why other American nations differ in their social and political habits. I’d also recommend it for those traveling or moving to a different location in the US or Canada. I’ve lived in several different parts of the US, and always noticed cultural differences of attitude, behavior, and treatment of outsiders, but I feel like I understand better where the lines are drawn and how they developed to what they are now after reading this book. (Hint, it doesn’t normally coincide with state borders.)

The author does an especially good job explaining the fascinating history of how the distinct colonial nations of the east coast expanded west and maintained many of their distinctive features in a new location, whether in the midwest or on the west coast.  He shows how the patterns of settlement determine the social and political characteristics of western states today.

Woodard could have done a better job tracing the changes in religious belief and how the nations were impacted and altered by those changes, especially “Yankeedom.” He doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on that aspect, not drawing a line between the public Christianity of the puritan fathers and the social activism of liberal churches and post-Christian New England, to mark when and how the change came about, and what impact it had on the nation. He seems to think that the Puritans deemphasized individual Christian faith, although of course those who know the Puritans know that if anything they are often perceived as being too introspective about their faith. And New England was also the birthplace of the Baptists in America, an offshoot of the puritans, who later made such inroads in the Deep South.

All in all it’s a very useful book.

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