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

3.46  ·  Rating Details ·  2,358 Ratings  ·  484 Reviews
Mark Stein is a playwright and screenwriter. His plays have been performed off-Broadway and at theaters throughout the country. His films include Housesitter, with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. He has taught at American University and Catholic University.
Paperback, 334 pages
Published April 7th 2009 by Harper Paperbacks (first published 2008)
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Oct 07, 2008 Ryan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
N W James
Oct 26, 2010 N W James rated it liked it  ·  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
Aug 03, 2012 Pierce rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This useless brick is, unfortunately, one of several self-inflicted literary infections I got by whipping out my 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
Mar 23, 2014 Bjoern rated it really liked it
Shelves: sachbuch, 2014-reads
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
Aug 27, 2012 Brigid rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, geography
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
Jan 23, 2015 Oren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2012 Beth Cato rated it really liked it
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
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
Apr 29, 2009 Nancy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
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."
Jan 01, 2014 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 08, 2014 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 07, 2009 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 29, 2009 Andy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 21, 2009 Yofish rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Sep 05, 2013 HBalikov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 08, 2016 Lyra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Better in concept than execution, and I think much of that is due to the organization. Stein (and his editors) divided the book into 50 chapters, one for each state, preceded by a "Don't skip this" section that covers major treated and philosophies for dividing states. The problem is readers are treated to the same information on a regular basis. Do we really need a subheading for Indiana's Eastern boarder that covers the same information as Ohio's Western boarder? A regional structure would hav ...more
Apr 03, 2015 Lexy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 08, 2012 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction-read
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.
Jul 16, 2016 Nate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, tobuy
This book suffers from one main issue: the repetitiveness of certain borders. By the end, all the borders had already been talked about before. This is better read, a few chapters every once in a while. I also noticed one little mistake:it said that King Charles I was Catholic in one chapter, but he was actually Anglican and head of that church. He just had sympathy for Catholics because of his wife. I think Lost States published by Quirk Books would be a great companion.
Jul 19, 2009 JC rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 26, 2009 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jasonchicks Hicks
This book is now a show on the History Channel. The chapters on New Hampshire and Vermont are very boring.
Jul 10, 2009 Jennifer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2009
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.
Sandra Munger
Dec 27, 2016 Sandra Munger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While there was some repetition (Colorado is next to Nebraska so the border history is the same). It was interesting. I noticed somethings I had not noticed before like the notch in Connecticut. A couple states have one border because a person who owned land didn't want to be in one of the 2 states so he arranged things to suit him. Politics have always played a part in things. They tried for similar sizes in many of the states - Texas and California are big because they were countries before th ...more
Nov 16, 2016 Meg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this book has some very interesting parts, its presentation in alphabetical order makes it read more like a reference book. I would have loved to see it in chronological order, which would also have prevented the numerous "see UTAH for more information" references.

Also? If you label something "DON'T SKIP THIS" do you really need to reference it every time that topic comes up?
Nov 14, 2016 Theo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting book. You need to have paper and ink so you can go back and forward all the time. The states are in alphabetical order so you read about the east border of a state and then later in the book you read about the west border of another state and you go back and forth trying to keep thing straight. I'm look forward to reading more books by Mark Stein.
Dec 28, 2016 Ward rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable read, especially when while reading other book this one can be taken up one state at a time. It presents interesting information, and busts some of the myths we picked up along the way about our own state.

This is a book to be recommended to anyone interested in the history of the US.
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Bookcrossers: 50 State Challenge 122 98 May 15, 2016 04:50AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Book Combined! 2 16 Sep 14, 2014 04:29PM  
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  • American Passage: The History of Ellis Island
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  • 1812: The War That Forged a Nation
  • Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American History
  • American History Revised: 200 Startling Facts That Never Made It into the Textbooks
  • Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
  • The Mental Floss History of the United States: The (Almost) Complete and (Entirely) Entertaining Story of America
  • Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America's Quest for Racial Purity
  • A Treasury of Great American Scandals
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

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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.” 2 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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