How the States Got Their Shapes

by Mark Stein | History |
ISBN: 9780061431388 Global Overview for this book
Registered by LastCavalier of Springfield, Virginia USA on 7/16/2008
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6 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by LastCavalier from Springfield, Virginia USA on Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Here is the product description from the publisher:

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.

Journal Entry 2 by LastCavalier from Springfield, Virginia USA on Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Here are my opinions on the book:

For two generations after its founding as a state in 1848, Wisconsin politicians praised the state for "preserving the Union" through its generous contributions of land to Michigan and Illinos. Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 Wisconsin was much larger than the relatively small "mitten" that actually joined the Union.

The entire Upper Peninsula was taken from Wisconsin Territory and given to Michigan by Congress as compensation for Michigan giving Ohio access to the Great Lakes. Wisconsin Territory's southern border originally ran east/west from the tip of Lake Michigan; the border was moved north in order to move Chicago into Illinois and counter-balance southern sympathies -- otherwise "Illinois would have been a Confederate Dagger driven into the heart of the Union."

Mark Stein's fascinating and well written book demonstrates that there is a great deal of history hidden in many of the state borders. His basic question is "Why put the line there?" Heart felt orations by Wisconsin politicos demonstrate that "the line" often made a major difference to people.

The early states varied in size and shape depending on royal grants and battles between the colonies. Stein points out that Maryland lost "every border dispute in which it engaged," and it now has the contour of a snub nosed squirt-gun.

Starting with the Northwest Territory, "Congress would locate the nation's internal borders with the goal that all states should be created equal." Except when they weren't: "California violated the policy of equality among states because it could.... The United States needed California more than California needed the United States."

Jefferson feared that "[c]onsidering the American character in general, a state of such extent as one hundred and sixty thousand square miles [roughly the size of California] would soon crumble into little ones." Indeed, southern Spanish speaking California did try to break away from the northern portions of the state.

Other interesting points include:

Texas made a deal that it could divide itself into five separate states, but so far of course it hasn't chosen to do so.

Northern Idaho so narrow because the Continental Divide separates Montana and Idaho and because an eastern Idaho Territory politico named Sidney Edgerton "went to Washington with $2,000 in gold packed away." The $2,000 was spent, the border changed and Sidney Edgerton was made territorial governor of Montana.

Oklahoma's panhandle came from Texas to keep Texas beneath the Missouri Compromise line of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude; otherwise Texas would have had to free its slaves.

Western states were shaped by size: North and South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming, Colorado and Oregon are each seven degrees of longitude wide; Colorado, Wyoming and Montana are each four degrees of latitude high; and Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas are three degrees high.

Exception: Oregon is taller than Washington because otherwise Seattle and Portland would have both been in Washington.

Utah has an L-shape so Wyoming could grow to seven-degrees and perhaps to reduce Mormon influences.

As mentioned earlier, Congress gave Michigan the Upper Peninsula to settle the Toledo War of 1835. There was human drama when Wisconsin lost Chicago; a delegation from the southern Wisconsin Territory arrived in Washington D.C. a day too late to protest being moved into Illinois.

Altogether, an interesting book -- I'll never look at the map of the United States in the same way again.

Journal Entry 3 by LastCavalier at Baltimore, Maryland USA on Friday, November 21, 2008

Released 11 yrs ago (11/22/2008 UTC) at Baltimore, Maryland USA



This book is being released at the Panera Bread in Baltimore, Maryland on occasion of the November meet-up of the local bookcrossing group "BCinDC." May this book continue its journey in good hands with fellow bookcrosser MaryZee.

Journal Entry 4 by crrcookie from Tecumseh, Oklahoma USA on Saturday, November 22, 2008
MaryZee didn't make it to Panera Bread but I did and I intercepted this book. I hope to read it soon and then pass it along to MaryZee at another meetup.

Journal Entry 5 by crrcookie from Tecumseh, Oklahoma USA on Monday, January 11, 2010
Strange ... I thought I commented on this book ... but I guess not.

I flipped through the book looking at the various states. Some of the shapes were made with rather an interesting history others not so much.

I couldn't read the book all the way through since I would always get sidetracked with a regular "story" book when I would put this one down but it was a lot of fun while it lasted.

I kept forgetting it every time I would see MaryZee (which has not been often enough) so I decided to mail it to her. It went in the mail today, 11 January 2010.

Journal Entry 6 by wingmaryzeewing from Taneytown, Maryland USA on Thursday, January 14, 2010
Book arrived safely with me today. I'll try not to hold onto it for too long - looking forward to this one. Thanks, Nat4lee and Crrcookie!

Journal Entry 7 by wingmaryzeewing at Taneytown, Maryland USA on Saturday, January 21, 2012
It took me nearly 3 weeks, but I've finally finished this book. Lots of history here to absorb. I read the book geographically, making a list of all the states when I started, and then working my way around the country and skipping around in the book. For me, this made more sense than reading thru the states alphabetically.

I would have liked to have timelines or lists included in the book, of when various states were accepted to statehood, and also when the major land acquisitions occurred (like the Louisiana Purchase). But I was very glad there was a large 2-page map of the U.S. in the front. And I re-read the section called "Don't Skip This" after I finished the book too. I also flipped back and forth to various states to look over the smaller maps as they were mentioned in the text. I did notice (reading geographically) some repetition between adjoining states (but of course, that's to be expected).

Interesting to note that there was a wide variety of reasons that state borders were determined where they were, including: royal decree, Congressional decision, physical boundaries (including both rivers and mountains), and also previous settlements and power plays (or lack thereof).

Thanks to everyone for sharing this. This book will soon be travelling in my Biographies of Things bookbox.

Journal Entry 8 by wingmaryzeewing at Biographies of Things, Bookbox -- Controlled Releases on Sunday, February 12, 2012

Released 8 yrs ago (2/13/2012 UTC) at Biographies of Things, Bookbox -- Controlled Releases


Sending out in my Biographies of Things bookbox. Enjoy!

Welcome to BookCrossing!

To the finder of this book:
Hello and congratulations! You have not only found yourself a good book, but a whole community of booklovers dedicated to sharing books with each other and the world at large. I hope you'll stick around a bit and get to know BookCrossing -- maybe even make a journal entry on this book. You may choose to remain anonymous or to join (it's free!) Feel free to read and keep this book, or to pass it on to a friend or even set it out "in the wild" for someone else to find like you did. If you do choose to join and journal, then you can watch the book as it travels - You'll be alerted by email each time someone makes another journal entry. It's all confidential (you're known only by your screen name and no one is ever given your e-mail address), free, and spam-free. Happy reading!

Journal Entry 9 by weiterferne at Houston, Texas USA on Friday, February 24, 2012
Saw some parts of this on TV and hope this will be a good read. Think that going geographically will be a good strategy.Taking this out of MaryZee's box.

Journal Entry 10 by weiterferne at Houston, Texas USA on Friday, June 08, 2012
Most interesting about this book for me where the large lines - moving from King's granted patches of land in the East to so-called equal states in the West. With some facts and figures which mountains and waterways to include. There is lots of details too, how borders moved a bit N, S, W, E and where they are exactly. Fascinating, but I forget this type of details within minutes.

I took the advise to read the book from East to West. As such you see the development and can read fast through parts of borders that are described in two State chapters. Don't see any use in reading this alphabetically.

Journal Entry 11 by debbie4osu at Carrollton, Texas USA on Thursday, June 21, 2012
I chose this book from the Non Fiction VBB and weiterferne sent it along. Looking forward to this good geography read. It is going onto Mount TBR, where it will stay for a bit. I will get to it, but it will take a while. Thanks for sending!

Journal Entry 12 by debbie4osu at Lewisville, Texas USA on Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Released 6 yrs ago (4/25/2013 UTC) at Lewisville, Texas USA


Great book to read in pieces, especially about your state :) This book will be traveling to Hawaii for an upcoming book festival.

Journal Entry 13 by allysther at Waipahu, Hawaii USA on Saturday, May 11, 2013
Thank you so much for the wonderful box of books! They will find new readers very soon!

(Of course I'll spend a few minutes reading about Hawaii before I say goodbye!)

Journal Entry 14 by allysther at Hawaii Book & Music Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii USA on Saturday, May 11, 2013

Released 6 yrs ago (5/18/2013 UTC) at Hawaii Book & Music Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii USA


This book will be released during the 8th Annual Hawaii Book & Music Festival, held on May 18-19, 2013. It is a weekend filled with the joy of books and the sounds of music and laughter. It is my pleasure to release my books into the wild on this day. I hope that you enjoy this book, and that you had a great time finding it out in the wild!

Good luck, little book! I hope we hear from you soon!

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