How the States Got Their Shapes

  • by Mark Stein
  • Narrated by Brian Holsopple
  • 6 hrs and 28 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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.
How the States Got Their Shapes examines:

Why West Virginia has a finger creeping up the side of Pennsylvania
Why Michigan has an upper peninsula that isn't attached to Michigan
Why some Hawaiian islands are not Hawaii
Why Texas and California are so outsized, especially when so many Midwestern states are nearly identical in size
Packed with fun oddities and trivia, this entertaining guide also reveals the major fault lines of American history, from ideological intrigues and religious intolerance to major territorial acquisitions. Adding the fresh lens of local geographic disputes, military skirmishes, and land grabs, Mark Stein shows how the seemingly haphazard puzzle pieces of our nation fit together perfectly.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Terrible Book for Audio -- Try the Print Version

Of maybe 200 or so Audible books I have listened to, this is the first that listening rather than reading the book was a huge obstacle. I knew this might be an issue but I figured a) I know state shapes pretty well so can probably follow most of it without looking at a map, and b) if I need to look at a map, I can just google it a check. I was wrong. The book is interesting because he deals with all sorts of little zigs and zags in state lines that you'd never see in a standard U.S. map; so, even a fairly decent knowledge of state outlines didn't help much. Moreover, you can't just look at the map for a minute and then follow the rest of the chapter. He deals with things very quickly. Accordingly, I found myself needing to recheck different parts of the map every 30-45 seconds. This made listening to the book while driving or at the gym virtually impossible. I suppose if you were just sitting on your couch listening and not multi-tasking, you could just keep Googling different maps and follow along. But that certainly isnt how I use Audible books. Also, at different times you need different types of maps--sometimes you need latitude & longitude, sometimes you need terrain, sometimes you need the names of small rivers and towns. I imagine that in the print version you get the map you need for that section on the page. Here though, in one 4 minute chapter, you might find yourself needing to google three different types of maps.

Also, this book goes alphabetically rather than geographically. That is, instead of discussing the New York-Vermont border once, you get most of the story in the New York chapter and then some slightly different but mostly redundant version of the story 15 states later in the Vermont section. There are some borders for which you hear the same story at least three or four different times. If this were in print, you could skip the repetitive stuff, but the audio format makes jumping around like that very difficult.
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- Mark

great info, but...

this book should be a bathroom book. it's too disconnected to enjoy through. narrator is good.
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- Sarah Elkinton

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-17-2011
  • Publisher: HarperCollins