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How the States Got Their Shapes
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How the States Got Their Shapes

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  1,930 ratings  ·  423 reviews
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
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ebook, 231 pages
Published April 7th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2008)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Ryan
This book is divided into 50 short chapters, each detailing how a U.S. state acquired its shape. Easy to understand.

This book at first fascinated me. I love history, and I love maps even more. I can just sit and look at a map for hours, running my mind over the lay of the land. So, I was hooked. How did West Virginia get that little finger of land that reaches toward Pittsburgh? Why aren't Vermont and New Hampshire just one regular-sized state? Why did Wyoming take a bite out of Utah, and not th
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N W James
Oct 26, 2010 N W James rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any geography geek
Shelves: history, 2009
read half of it in one sitting. I'm so not cool. Toward the end though, it got pretty repetitive. The strategy of covering every border one state at a time is good in theory, but if read from cover to cover, could be done in about 25 pages. Things I learned from the book:
1. There was a whole lot of bad surveying going on.
2. Panhandles are the most telling of the political atmosphere back then. Oklahoma has a panhandle because Texas wanted to be a slave state. Florida has a panhandle because it w
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Robin
I have found your Father's Day gift.
You can thank me later. On the other hand, if he becomes completely annoying over dinner and long car rides, I accept none of the blame.
Pierce
This useless brick is, unfortunately, one of several self-inflicted literary infections I got by whipping out my Amazon.com iPhone App two hours deep into a happy hour. GOOD friends don't let friends do that. I need better friends, it would seem.

This book is about as compelling and forgettable as those "Brain Quest" trivia cards, and poorly written. I gritted my teeth through the first several chapters that Professor Stein begins with "How come...?" Why not "why?" Or better still, why not acknow
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Bjoern
A nice little book with tons of interesting stories about the setting, resetting and finalizing of borders over the roughly 230 years of American History. And it delivers exactly what it says on the cover: it shows and tells how the States got their shapes.

So ultimately, the only problem that i've got with Mr Stein's presentation is that i've come to read the book through the (in my eyes more than excellent) television series of the same name, where the various conflicts, clashes of interest and
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Oren
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It is exactly as its title suggests. it's a book about how each state in the United States got its border. The book begins with a section called "Don't Skip This" It would have been helpful if this section included a succinct summary. The purpose of this section is to give a broad background on the formation of the geography of the United States. As I read the book, though, I kept thinking"If I knew about the French and Indian War, The Louisiana Purchase and The Mex ...more
Beth Cato
The title IS a summary of the book, which is an ideal read if you're a history and geography geek like me. It's 304-pages of maps, historical notes, and outright warfare between states. I've always wondered why many East Coast states remained small; yes, they may have been colonies originally, but why not combine eventually? That question and many others are addressed. Sometimes it can get confusing because of the sheer amount of terms, but Stein set aside a special section at the front called D ...more
Brigid
The information within the book - and for the most part the style in which it is written - is very good. The primary fault is the organization. There are two introductory sections, one laying out the point of the book and the other giving some important information that will be referenced in almost every state history. Then the book goes through each state's border history. The states are listed alphabetically which is handy if you only want to look up a few. If you only want to look up, for exa ...more
The other John
Here's an intriguing book of trivia--a tome of a very specific historical niche. Have you ever looked at a state map and wondered why the border runs like it does? No? Er, well, trust me, there are weirdoes like me who love maps and sit and gaze upon all the little quirks and details. And there are some, like me, who have wondered why the heck Michigan has an upper peninsula or why Utah has that notch. Such secrets are revealed in this book, as the logic (or politics) behind each twist and turn ...more
Nancy
This was not as good as I had hoped, though it did have some interest. My big problem was the way he arranged his information, which was with the states in alphabetical order and then dealing with each border. The alphabetical order was the big problem--you spent a fair amount of time flipping back and forth between, say, Arizona and Nevada, or Mississippi and Alabama. Or you didn't flip, and so you forgot part of the story. Just a dumb and lazy way to arrange information that could have been re ...more
Scott Middleton
I cannot believe I read this whole thing.

Some of the explanations are interesting and may one day make for nerd cocktail chatter, but they are not worth suffering through the concluding sentence of each chapter, which is invariably in the style of "...and that's why the Florida panhandle demonstrates America's commitment to equality."
Lexy
Started in early March and finally finished! the TV show that came from this book is so addicting for a history and geography nerd like me so I had to buy the book so I could highlight all over it. I read the first 125 pages or so quickly. then the repetition started and it bored me quickly hence the long time to read. I really enjoyed this book and I understand there has to be repetitions but it was still obnoxious. the book and TV show cannot be compared as the book is broken down state by sta ...more
Ben
It's fine, but seems like it wasn't designed to actually be read straight through. It has a chapter on each state arranged alphabetically, which means the information is disjointed instead of being organized by either region or major occurrence that produced the states (such as the Louisiana Purchase).

That said, it's actually surprising how logical a lot of the state boundaries ended up being. In the east, a lot of it is due to where rivers create natural boundaries. This plays out elsewhere in
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Jeff Elliott
"Just the facts, Mam!" That's about all that can be said about this book. Without the maps this would be one of the most boring, hard to read books I have ever encountered. With the maps it is at least understandable. Without a degree in geography, latitude and longitude, the average reader would find this a difficult read. We should also state that some states borders are just more boring than others. Can you hear me, Wyoming? The show put on by the History Channel on this topic did an excellen ...more
Dave
Summary: A state-by-state (plus the District of Columbia) description of exactly how and why every state border came to be in its current precise location. It's not as dry a read as it sounds.

Thoughts: On the whole, I really enjoyed this book. The stories behind the state lines is fascinating (did you know that the NY/NJ state line was in dispute even up until the 1990s? I sure didn't! And poor Maryland - it contested the placement of every one of its borders, and lost every. single. time.). Ste
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Aaron
My wife and I read several portions of How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein while we drove to and from Kansas over the Christmas Holidays. The book is a state-by-state description of how the 50 states, plus DC, obtained their current boundaries. The book can be rather repetitive, if you read it straight through (after all, the states all share borders, and if each chapter of the book tells the story of every boundary of one state, there has to be repitition, with the exception of maybe ...more
Andy
This is the first pop-geography book I’ve come across, and while many of the state-shaping forces described here are somewhat intuitive (e.g. existing colonial borders, geographical boundaries, access to natural resources, slavery), I was surprised by the extent to which borders were contorted, and remain contorted to this day, to prevent islands of lawlessness or to enforce class and religious separation. Apparently, farmers don’t get along with gold miners, and just about everyone wants to kee ...more
Yofish
Jan 21, 2009 Yofish rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Yofish by: Inside Smithsonian Research
Shelves: read-nonfiction
Pretty much what the title says. He goes through the 50 states, in order, and describes why their borders are where they are. (Even Alaska and Hawaii.) That means there's lots of repeating, and lots of "to see more, turn to [other state]' But that's OK. Not real great for just reading straight through. Some good stuff. Surprising how late some of these disputes went on.

And how much was decided by somewhat random chance. Like someone screwed up the survey. Or someone read the royal decree wrong.
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Dave
Ok, if you're into interesting facts, ramdom ways to make conversation (that may not go anywhere), or just want to surprise yourself with your own level of ignorance about the actual shape of states (including the one you live in) then this is the book for you.

If, however, despite all that is written above you find repetitveness, poor organization, and failed attempts at grandiose statements and/or humor, perhaps you should pass. This was a pretty poorly written book. It was organized alphabeti
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Todd N
My parents live near Toledo, Ohio, and one of the streets near their house is called "Old State Line Road." After reading this book, I understand the significance of this street's name and how it is related to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. As a bonus, I learned that a large part of northern Ohio was claimed by Connecticut.

This book takes an interesting approach to U.S. history by explaining why the states have the shapes that they do. I never really had a reason to question why the states are shap
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HBalikov
Many would agree with Robert Frost that "good fences make good neighbors." (or with Ben Franklin who made a similar observation 200 years prior). This book is a treasure trove of why boundaries were and are important. Stein makes some general observations about the process of establishing the states and the antecedents to our nation's control over its current territory before examining almost every mile of border from each state's perspective.

It's a pleasant surprise that he makes it so interest
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Mark Taylor
Have you ever wondered why the Upper Peninsula of Michigan isn’t actually connected to the rest of Michigan? Why is South Dakota larger than North Dakota? Why is Delaware even a state? If these thoughts have ever crossed your mind, then Mark Stein’s 2008 book How the States Got Their Shapes is the book for you. Stein covers all of the borders of all 50 states, and tells us why those borders are where they are.

How the States Got Their Shapes is an interesting idea for a book and it provides the
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Jennifer
This book goes through the states alphabetically and explains each north, south, east, and west border. The information is presented in a way that is not boring. However, I would not recommend reading this book straight through because there is a lot of repetition. This is very obvious when states next to each other geographically and alphabetically (like Indiana and Illinois). This book answered a lot of questions and provided tons of historic information.
JC
This is a wonderfully entertaining description of how state borders were formed. (It's nowhere near as simple as you may think!) I will say that reading this on the Kindle was a bit frustrating, due to slow-loading images and less-than-ideal page formatting. However, I will enjoy having it handy during my travels.
Lauren Csaki
This book addressed a really interesting, if esoteric, subject. There are some really fascinating stories behind how the borders between states were decided! The only thing wrong with Stein's book, in my opinion, is the choice of presentation: he describes each state separately, in alphabetical order (so, in a sense, arbitrarily). This is great if your intention is too use it as a reference, looking up a few states individually here and there. But I wanted to read about all of the states, so I r ...more
Lida
I thought that this book would be more entertaining, but as a fiction-lover, it didn't have enough intrigue to capture my imagination. Also, the book didn't answer all of my questions about how some states got their shapes. I appreciate that this book would be difficult to organize, as there are some common treaties and territories that dictated the shape of many states, and I feel the author handled that as well as possible. On the positive side, I picked up some interesting tidbits and it was ...more
Jason
OMG! Who would have imagined that a book about the the shape of each state would be such a great read. This book was endlessly fascinating, well written and great fun. If you haven't read this I highly recommend it.
Cindy
Finished today and really liked the content and concept, but thought that the execution needed work. I loved the combination of geography and history of the states and there was plenty of trivia to appeal to my inner nerd. My biggest compliant about this book was the way that the author set it up. He had this done in alphabetical order by state - so, what's wrong with that? Well, it ended up with too much referring back to other states or to the introductory material. After awhile, it was annoyi ...more
George Miller
This book is an unofficial companion to a series on The History Channel of the same name. It provides a high level general overview of how the US acquired territory, along with 3 to 5 page chapters for each state and the District of Columbia stating how that state acquired its current borders. The book is organized so that each state's chapter is self contained, thus is you read the whole book in order, as opposed to looking up a single state, you read a significant amount of redundant data. The ...more
Jennifer
The book had some really interesting facts, but I wish the writing had been a little more...lively. It just seemed too dry for my tastes.
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Bookcrossers: 50 State Challenge 117 89 Aug 19, 2015 01:38PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Book Combined! 2 16 Sep 14, 2014 04:29PM  
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

1951-
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“In reality, France's American territory extended to the west as far as a Frenchman could go without getting shot by a Spaniard, and likewise to the north without getting shot by an Englishman.” 1 likes
“The origin of Georgia's southern border is simpler than that of it's northern border. And bloodier” 0 likes
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