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This is a brief coffee-table-ish sort of book about various proposals for U.S. states that for one reason or another failed to happen, such as Texlahoma, which is exactly what it sounds like (part of Texas and part of Oklahoma configured to make three more regular state shapes instead of the current two messy ones), or the times that Boston, Chicago, and Long Island have tried to establish themselves as full states. Some of them are perfectly sensible ideas, such as breaking off the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, giving it part of Wisconsin, and using the natural geographical barriers of the area such as the lake to draw the boundaries. Some of them are fairly silly-- there have been several attempts to establish states for publicity or tourist reasons, and the U.S. was never going to manage to buy Iceland after WWII, sorry. And some of them sound pretty sensible and then turn out to be a bad idea; there is a reason that planners tended to draw state boundaries so as to include at least one major city in most of them, and this is why for instance Chicago did not get to become a state, because then you would have a giant urban voting bloc entirely dependent on resources it did not legislate and a smaller rural bloc unable to tap city money for state uses ever.

So there's a lot of interesting trivia here.

Unfortunately, that's about all there is, because this is a coffee-table book, and he gets one page of text and a map per state. Which is not remotely enough to go into anything like the complexities you get from, oh, any attempts at white colonization in the Western U.S..

Which leads me to the other problem with this book.

It just came out. It's... I guess not as bad as it could be, but this is 2011. The author freely admits that several proposals for states failed because elements in Congress didn't want states with majority non-white populations, for instance. And he freely admits that Native Americans did not get listened to in the process of the current borders being drawn, and that the U.S. did nasty things around the Mexican border. But. He just... look, I did not think one referred to Native American men as 'braves' in this day and age. He is assuming his audience to be from the U.S., which he says explicitly once and implicitly over and over, and he is assuming them to be white. This is a book that is full of mentions of, say, 'your fourth-grade history class', and 'you' is not the people he is saying 'you' learned about there, such as, oh, Native Americans. This is full of things like him saying that xyz Civil War battle was 'one of the most important in history', where if you look at the entirety of human history, not so much, and so by history he means American history, but he doesn't say so. If you see how this sort of (probably unconscious) rhetoric works. And there are some things he says about Puerto Rico that make me want to throw things, and. Aargh.

I know it is not possible to shoehorn all the issues into a couple hundred words of text per entry. But it is, or should be, possible to write about this without being so WASP-centered in terms of assumed audience, and without saying things every so often that actively move into offensive.

Even if you are writing a funny little book without much substance, you have that power.

But it did have a lot of historical trivia I'd never heard before. Basically this served to really whet my appetite for a serious book about the process of the formation of state boundaries over the course of American history. Because there is a lot of fascinating politicking and racial stuff and media stuff and water-rights stuff and road-building stuff and the flow of money and I have a degree in urban planning, remember, this sort of thing makes my eyes start shining and my piles of books growing ever upwards. Does anyone know whether the serious book exists? Because this one, I do not recommend, but it made me hypothesize a whole new kind of book I do want.


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