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AMERICAN NATIONS by Colin Woodard Kirkus Star


A HIstory of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

by Colin Woodard

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02296-0
Publisher: Viking

Forget about the United States and Canada. The true nations of North America, writes historian and Christian Science Monitor foreign correspondent Woodard (The Republic of Pirates, 2007, etc.), have little to do with those artificialities.

Borrowing fruitful notions from Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America (1981) and David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in North America (1989), Woodard traces the differences in America’s regions to cultural, ethnic, religious and political differences among various strains of settlers, many of them long in play back in the British Isles. What he calls The Midlands, for instance, extends from the central Atlantic Seaboard deep into the Great Plains, encircling “Yankeedom” by taking in the southern tier of east-central Canada. These regions are the historical purview of, respectively, the Quakers of the English Midlands and the Puritans of England’s eastern coast, with their distinct views of human nature and how government had to be organized to respond to it. Some of his “eleven stateless nations of North America” descend from these two regions, representing the old divide between moderate conservatism, with its “middle-class ethos and considerable respect for intellectual achievement,” and moderate liberalism, with its view that “society should be organized to benefit ordinary people.” Other regions, though, are the product of an English elite that mistrusted any government that presumed to tell them what to do, even though they descended from feudalism. Behold, then, the South, both the aristocratic piedmont of Virginia and North Carolina and the hardscrabble, God-haunted, fearful Deep South. The author connects these regional differences to deep divisions in American life, noting that the old struggle between those moderate forces has been supplanted by the rise of that Deep South, perfected in the 2000 election, when it “established simultaneous control over the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives for the first time in forty-six years.”

Woodard offers a fascinating way to parse American (writ large) politics and history in this excellent book.