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Recommended Read: America’s Eleven Nations

by Anthony Noel
Contributing Writer

One in a series highlighting the books our contributing and guest writers most enjoyed reading in 2014.

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
Colin Woodard
Penguin Group, 2011

Employer-paid contraception.
Gay marriage.
The militarization of police departments.
Abortion.
Labor unions.
Marijuana legalization.
The “war on terror.”

Does anything on that list push your buttons? (Okay, that’s a rhetorical question.)

As the culture wars rage on, it seems the America we all learned about in elementary school – the “melting pot” where people of diverse cultures assimilate into a homogeneous, harmonious society – is based more on feel-good propaganda than research-supported fact. Colin Woodard’s exhaustive, engaging study of the eleven cultures which even now dominate our continent sanctions that instinctive conclusion.

TheMeltingpot1

Israel Zangwill’s 1903 play first coined the term “Melting Pot” as a description of The United States.

The culture wars rage, indeed – and Woodard’s book pulls no punches in pinpointing the baked-in-the-cake ideologies underpinning them.

Drawing on the seminal work of Joel Garreau (The Nine Nations of North America) and David Hackett Fischer (Albion’s Seed), Woodard identifies the “nations” comprising North America: El Norte, New France, Tidewater (to which much of eastern North Carolina belongs), Yankeedom, New Netherland, The Deep South, The Midlands, Greater Appalachia, The Far West, The Left Coast, and First Nation.

And he doesn’t stop there.

Before delving long and deep into the characteristics making each of these nations unique – from work cultures to linguistics – Woodard maps the exact location of them today, right down to the county. In so doing, he shows how different (and how much the same) the cultures of people living within 50 miles of each other can be.

AmericanNationsMap

From the book

For example, though Pitt County is in the Tidewater nation according to Woodard (as are Pamlico and Carteret), Craven, he says, is in The Deep South.

Such close divisions seem to support the notion of the melting pot, but Woodard’s painstaking research of the eleven cultures shows them to be “close” in geography alone. Each is culturally unique, and it is here that any thoughts of all of us one day joining hands and singing Kumbaya quickly shatter.

American Nations is the perfect book for any politics junkie, but also much more. A guide to understanding “how anybody can think like that,” it explains in a clear, entertaining, and sometimes downright funny style just how untied these “United” States are.

Most strikingly (for this reader, at least) it prompts the question: Why do we try so hard to look, to the rest of the world, like something we’ve never been?

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