The best books on boundaries

Mark Stein Author Of How the States Got Their Shapes
By Mark Stein

The Books I Picked & Why

The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA

By Doug Mack

The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA

Why this book?

Our borderlines tell us a lot about who we are -- and who we are not. Many Americans know, for instance, that Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory and likely know why there is reluctance in Puerto Rico and Congress for it to become a state: language y cultura. These two factors may play some part in why the English-speaking Territories of Guam, Samoa, the Northern Marianas and the Virgin Islands are not states, but why are they U.S. possessions? Doug Mack’s book digs into these borders that are -- and simultaneously are not -- the United States.


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American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

By Colin Woodard

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

Why this book?

Some of our state lines were cultural borders. The Colony of Massachusetts was founded by and for Puritans; Maryland was created for Catholics; Pennsylvania for Quakers. That process continued after the Revolution, regardless of state (or later-to-become state) lines. Colin Woodard’s book explores the founding of such cultural regions and reveals how those not-on-the-map lines influence our differing views to this day.


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Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

By William Cronon

Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

Why this book?

This book really jogged the way I look at maps and contributed to my wondering about boundaries. Using Chicago as his base point, William Cronon breaks apart one of the fundamental geographic borders in our minds: urban versus rural. He shows just how interconnected we are -- including those “parasites” we call middlemen, by explaining (and making interesting!) the Chicago Commodities Exchange.


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Cessions of Land by Indian Tribes to the United States

By Charles C. Royce

Cessions of Land by Indian Tribes to the United States

Why this book?

This book is not so much one to read, being more of an atlas. And atlases are expensive. Except this one. It’s free! Published by the U.S. Government in 1899 but still available online, it’s an extraordinary collection of Native American borders that got changed...and changed...and changed. It is history in the raw, from back in that time. More importantly, it is history we all need to know, if we are to know who we are as a nation today.


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Underland: A Deep Time Journey

By Robert MacFarlane

Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Why this book?

Humans create all kinds of borders. They’re invaluable in helping us make sense of the world. Robert Macfarlane’s book brilliantly explores what might be called “dark borders.” From below ground borders via, for instance, caves into which he takes his readers (claustrophobic readers beware!) to the discovery of dark matter in the universe and how physicists “map” what can’t be seen. But the best part is his revealing the significance of these dark realms to the human experience...and, in the case of “dark matter,” to existence itself.


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