One of my favorite books is David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, which I read 20 years ago. In a similar vein is American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard. Although I’m only a third of the way through, it’s well on its way to making my all-time top ten book list. Both books tell the stories of the very different peoples who first settled North America – and their very different cultures. Fischer deals with four groups from the British Isles that dominated the early settlement of colonial America. Woodard’s scope expands to include eleven cultures – he calls them “nations” – that comprise the entire continent. Woodard also looks at how those eleven cultures have influenced the United States throughout its history – and how, they are still vying for power and preeminence within the USA.
Of particular interest to me are the two nations of which my family and I have been and are a part: the Deep South and “Greater Appalachia.” Even at my current reading point in the book, it’s obvious that Woodard is not a fan of either – and that may be putting it mildly. I think there’s much more to commend both of these “nations” than Woodard sees or wants to credit. In addition to that bias, Woodard seems to me to occasionally draw simplified, over-generalized conclusions.
But, on the whole, there is much truth to Woodard’s observations – at least about the southern cultures that I know the best. And, he provides some intriguing explanations for the bitter arguments that divide the USA today. As Woodard demonstrates, similar divisions have plagued our country since its inception, and, in fact, are inherent in our cultural DNA.
More to follow as I move through the book.