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

Last updated date: August 19, 2020

DWYM Score

9.0

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

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We looked at the top American History Books and dug through the reviews from some of the most popular review sites. Through this analysis, we've determined the best American History Book you should buy.

Update as September 12, 2021:
Checkout The Best American History Book for a detailed review of all the top american history books.

Overall Take

This book looks at the cultural differences that mark various regions of the U.S., suggesting that America's political history can be traced back to before it even began. It not only helps readers better understand the history of the country, but it can provide some context for the divisions that remain with us today.


In our analysis of 34 expert reviews, the Colin Woodward American Nations placed 4th when we looked at the top 6 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.

From The Manufacturer

An illuminating history of North America's eleven rival cultural regions that explodes the red state-blue state myth. North America was settled by people with distinct religious, political, and ethnographic characteristics, creating regional cultures that have been at odds with one another ever since. Subsequent immigrants didn't confront or assimilate into an “American” or “Canadian” culture, but rather into one of the eleven distinct regional ones that spread over the continent each staking out mutually exclusive territory. In American Nations, Colin Woodard leads us on a journey through the history of our fractured continent, and the rivalries and alliances between its component nations, which conform to neither state nor international boundaries. He illustrates and explains why “American” values vary sharply from one region to another. Woodard (author of American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good) reveals how intranational differences have played a pivotal role at every point in the continent's history, from the American Revolution and the Civil War to the tumultuous sixties and the "blue county/red county" maps of recent presidential elections. American Nations is a revolutionary and revelatory take on America's myriad identities and how the conflicts between them have shaped our past and are molding our future.

Expert Reviews

Expert Summarized Score

8.4
7 expert reviews

User Summarized Score

9.0
1,394 user reviews

What experts liked

A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America pulls off the unlikely feat of both offering the tools for just such a broader, deeper understanding—and demonstrates why, in a larger sense, that effort is doomed. He compellingly lays out his vision of why it makes sense to throw state boundaries out the window for the most part and think instead of 11 nations, each defined by its history, by a common culture and set of assumptions about government and life.
- Good Reads
Woodard sets his political geography apart by delving deep into history, building on the insights of David Hackett Fischer’s “Albion’s Seed,” a 1989 analysis of the four “British folkways” in America, to demonstrate that trends in contemporary political behavior can be traced back to well before the country’s founding. Woodard provides a bracing corrective to an accepted national narrative that too often overlooks regional variations to tell a simpler and more reassuring story.
- The Washington Post
But the US isn't only made up of 50 states. It may also be a country comprised of several tribes or factions. That's according to award-winning author Colin Woodard, who writes in his book "American Nations" that there are 11 distinct cultures that have historically divided North America (Canada is included in his overall analysis).
- Business Insider
Woodard persuasively argues that since the founding of the United States, 11 distinct geographical “nations” have formed within the Union, each with its own identity and set of values.
- History Net
The first part of the book, which I enjoyed the most, describes the establishment and development of each of the 11 cultural areas listed above. The second part gives examples of how these nations have interacted during different periods and social issues. It provides an excellent foundation for understanding our nation’s history.
- A Peek at the Peak
A remarkable book, American Nations, subtitled “a history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America” by Colin Woodard lends answers to many of the political questions of today. Woodard shows that it is necessary to understand the history of each region and each region’s interactions with the other regions before beginning to understand why the United States is as it is today.
- Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation
In his new book, author and historian Colin Woodard explores how America was shaped by settlement patterns dating back to the time of the first Thanksgiving.
- PBS News Hour

What experts didn't like

Woodard’s personal prejudices are made most evident by the facts and events he chooses to discuss, and the ones he ignores. He laments the railway land grants in the Far West, but handily excludes of any thoughtful consideration of New Netherlands/Yankee ownership of these railroad companies.
- Good Reads
In any synthesis as sweeping as this, there are bound to be holes. Woodard skirts some inconvenient facts (for instance, New York became the commercial capital not only because of its Dutch roots, but because of the Erie Canal).
- The Washington Post

An Overview On American History Books

In school, you were handed a history textbook and told to read it. It likely had a condensed history of America, covering wars, important political figures and big events.

For those interested in history, though, the thirst for information continues long after graduation. Even children may find school textbooks inadequate if they’re really interested in learning history. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of history books, especially if you want to study a particular event or era in depth.

But what if you just want a full telling of the history of America? There are books for that, as well. The key is to find one that covers the timeframe you’re interested in studying. Some start with Columbus’s arrival, while others include the history of Native Americans before settlers arrived.

Most American history books will focus on a certain theme. This is what makes each one unique. So before you start looking for a good book, think about what interests you most. Do you want to learn more about the political climate of America throughout history, or do wars and foreign relations interest you more? Are you interested in exploring a particular theme, or would you prefer to simply read the events in chronological order, pulled together with an interesting narrative?

For younger readers, images can be a great way to break up pages of text. Many children’s history books will use compelling photos, charts, maps and other imagery to both illustrate points and keep things interesting. Also look for text that’s engaging, rather than the more serious approach usually seen in textbooks. When children see that learning history can be fun, they’re more likely to continue to want to research as they grow into adults.

The American History Book Buying Guide

  • The structure of a history book is one of the most important aspects. If possible, take a quick look at the table of contents and pay close attention to whether the story is told chronologically or separated by themes. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but many readers find they prefer one over the other.
  • Even the best-written nonfiction book is useless if it isn’t based in fact. Look for books from authors with impressive backgrounds. A renowned historian or professor of history is better than an author with no connection to the field whatsoever. If you can, check how the author conducted research and whether information came from valid sources.
  • The publication date on the book comes into play, as well. A history of America that was published 20 years ago won’t just leave out a couple of decades of events. It may be missing the perspective that those two extra decades have brought. Some history books are updated to compensate for this lapse, but make sure the updates make the book as relevant as one published recently.
  • Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, you may want an unbiased telling of historical events. There are plenty of American history books that sway conservative or liberal, though, if that’s what you prefer. You can often identify them by the themes they promote in the blurb. However, the review section will often include at least a couple of readers who found the book too political on one side or the other, so browsing those can help.
  • At one time, history books painted a rosy picture of historical events. But toward the end of the 20th century, documentarians and authors began digging into the reality of events that have happened. You can still find positive, upbeat takes on American history, but you’ll probably notice those are rarer than books that are more upfront and honest.