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Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America's Forgotten Border

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  1,377 ratings  ·  225 reviews
A quest to rediscover America’s other border―the fascinating but little-known northern one.

America’s northern border is the world’s longest international boundary, yet it remains obscure even to Americans. The northern border was America’s primary border for centuries—much of the early history of the United States took place there—and to the tens of millions who live and w
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published July 3rd 2018 by W. W. Norton Company
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David Dunlap To be truthful, not all that much. There are extensive glimpses of Samuel de Champlain and other French explorers and vignettes of Canadian individual…moreTo be truthful, not all that much. There are extensive glimpses of Samuel de Champlain and other French explorers and vignettes of Canadian individuals encountered along the way. In his 'A Note on Sources,' the author writes: "It should be said that this book was researched and written from the perspective of an American looking north at the border, and that many Canadian figures and historical events have been omitted. This was not done out of bias, but merely because, having grown up in Maine, that was the path I took and the story I chose to tell." -- Perhaps some enterprising Canadian will take up the challenge and write a book from his/her perspective! (Hope this helps!)(less)

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Robert Bothwell
This was an easy read, but it was really a quick journey to disappointment. The framework is a series of vignettes as the author alights on various parts of the Canadian-American border -- the Ste Croix river, the Great Lakes (via a Canadian laker), the Grand Portage/Quetico region, central North Dakota (100 miles from the actual border), Glacier National Park, and finally the Peace Arch between Washington state and British Columbia. The vignettes are spliced with little bits of history -- Champ ...more
Ryan Judd
Aug 03, 2018 rated it liked it
The books isn't BAD, BUT it could have been so much better. I think the project got away from the author. It became too much for him--understandably so, he's literally trying to "cover" 4,000 miles, countless cultures, sub-cultures, diverse groups of native peoples, 300 years of history including the very strange present day, geography, ecology, etc. When I first heard about this book before it came out I was expecting something similar in length and depth to Ian Frazier's "Travels in Siberia" w ...more
Vince Tuss
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
As someone who has spent time in the Northeast, Great Lakes and Northwest, I find it intriguing to read them all grouped together as the Northland. I learned a lot about the start of the Boundary Waters. Most importantly, the end chapter with more reading intrigues the most, starting with “Champlain’s Dream.” And I am insanely jealous of a freighter ride across the Great Lakes. If you want to learn more about the U.S.-Canada border, how it was defined, how it has changed since 2001 and how it is ...more
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
(Note: I received an advanced electronic copy of this book from NetGalley)

The pages of this travelogue will fly by fast for readers as they follow the author along on an informatively enjoyable journey from Maine to Washington state through the US’s northern border, a fascinating boundary land that has become seemingly forgotten in this day and age.
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this adventure with historical info. I read along with my tablet on Google Earth to follow along and get a better feel for the territory being traveled.
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very interesting read in the travel mode -- taking a journey east to west along the US border with Canada. I found his prose style to be excellent and he does a great job of weaving the actual narrative of the trip to the history of the areas he travels through. There were many things I learned and was not aware of regarding these areas, both current and historically. If you enjoy books that take you on a journey, this is one to try.
Chris Keefe
Mar 20, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Northland is a book betrayed by its cover and its title, tantalizing readers with the image of a solo paddler backdropped by a stand of trees, and notions of a "4,000-mile journey". You pick it up, hoping for a deep dive into the lonely landscapes of the northern US. Its pages, instead, blend a bit of history with a superficial road trip through border country.

In a typical moment of bombast, Fox writes "I was 2500 miles from home, 1500 from the Pacific. It was fall again, and getting cold. The
David Dunlap
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book, but difficult to classify -- it is part adventure story, part travelogue, part history, part political commentary. The author undertook a voyage of discovery: to trace (most) of the border between the United States and Canada. I was impressed by the vividness of his descriptions, especially of the people and various localized cultures he encountered in his travels. Along the way, there are character studies/mini biographies of some of the most prominent historical figures assoc ...more
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed it but it kind of just ends.
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
It is heading into the dead of winter! Want to read a book that will make you want to camp with every fibre of your being? What if that book also gave you a history lesson using beautiful language? Yes?

*Northland* follows Porter Fox's journey along the border separating Canada and the US, from Maine to Washington, by foot, canoe, and car, camping throughout. It's a love song to the landscapes and cultures he encounters alone the way. The book has a decidedly American slant, but much of the hist
Patrick Macke
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
The concept is that this guy's gonna travel from east to west along the entire U.S./Candian border and tell us what's on either side as he goes. It is indeed a long, remote and mostly forgotten border and he uncovers many interesting and worthwhile facts and stories along the way, but he gets so sidetracked by history and treaties and land disputes that he seems to forget the "forgotten border" and a great idea finally slides off course short of the intended objective. Still, to the author's cre ...more
Jul 31, 2018 rated it liked it
There is a lot of interesting information here. It has big digressions into the history of Native Americans and modern issues like DAPL.

I expected something more like William Least Heat Moon’s River Horse or even Blue Highways.

I wish the book veered more into the lives and encounters with people on his journey and it ends up being a lot more sterile than I had hoped for a travelogue. He deals almost entirely with the US and almost nothing at all with the Canadian perspective.

May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Favorite passage: "In the meantime, La Salle and two men walked 250 miles through three feet of snow - with a single bag of cornmeal to sustain them - to Fort Frontenac to resupply. Historians have speculated that La Salle's near demonic energy could have been a symptom of mental illness."
Janette Mcmahon
Jun 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Readable nonfiction on the US's northern border. Perfect blend of history and geography. Highly recommend for readers of travelogues and history.
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful little book that can be read in an evening. The narrative about the creation of the USA-Canadian international border is the story of the birth, creation and exploration of the United States. Well written up until the "Medicine Line".

My only complaint is that he covered the last 800 to 1000 miles westward far too quickly. There is plenty more about the "Medicine Line" extending from western North Dakota to the Pacific worthy of discussion. A whole chapter could have been expended on t
John Benson
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
After finishing a 1993 book about a trip along the US-Mexico border as the first book in my book pile, it seems appropriate that the last book was a more recent trip along the US-Canada border. Porter Fox writes it in 5 episodic segments beginning with canoeing along the Maine-New Brunswick border, then riding a freighter across the Great Lakes, canoeing once again in Minnesota's Boundary Waters, visiting the DAPL protests in North Dakota and finishing with a drive near the 49th Parallel in Mont ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Northland recounts Porter Fox's intermittent east to west three year journey along America's northern border with Canada by foot, canoe, automobile, and Great Lakes freighter. Throughout Fox presents the history of the region dating back to the original Native American tribes, the French and Indian Wars, the several US attempts to invade Canada, the Louisiana Purchase, and the opening of the Far West by wagon train and railroads. Nor does he neglect environmental issues and the ecology of the r ...more
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one book I truly didn't want to end! Porter Fox's expedition along the 4,000-mile-long northern border of the U.S. is so much more than a travelogue, it's a modern-day pioneer's journal that chronicles exploration of the land, the history and the cultures that have existed for centuries if not millennia along the "northland." With his backpack, canoe, maps and an assortment of books, Fox sets out for the Hi-Line for an unforgettable engaging journey that thrills as much as it entertains! ...more
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Telling the history from the 1500s to the present of the Native settlements and the U.S., British, and French (not necessarily in that order) occupation and imperialization of North America, including determining the border between the U.S. and Canada, this great read has many more proper nouns than I’ll ever remember. What I will remember is the mood evoked during the good times and the struggles and the bloodshed. Especially tender for me are the stories of Standing Rock. A few weeks before mo ...more
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
I'm not sure this lived up to the blurb on the cover, but at first, it was a very good travel narrative. A little natural history but not nearly as much as I desired. A good bit of human history mixed in with his day-to-day adventures.

Oddly, toward the end I felt unmotivated to continue. That might have been the result of his lengthy pause of the journey (not in time but in narrative) to write in great detail (and with great feeling) about the current situation of the American Indians along the
I picked up the audiobook version of Porter Fox’s Northland as I’d just visited Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and was headed to Voyageurs National Park.

The subject matter was as relevant as it could possibly be, and yet I still felt this book lulled and dragged in multiple areas. I guess I’d hoped for a richer, deeper account of the borderlands, rather than a light-footed sprinkling of historical and current events. Nonetheless, I learned a few things from reading the book,
Sep 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought a lot about what I thought about this book in the end. I had read the NYT magazine version of the St. Lawrence Seaway trip and loved it. The integration of the historical narratives — with the totally understandable focus on colonists and Native Americans — really enriched it. That sensibility ultimately made me appreciate the overall effect, despite the book’s journalistic ticks.

And it really made me want to go hiking, kayaking, and generally exploring the many parts of Northland I’v
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: outdoors, travel, history
As much a history book as at is an outdoors/travel book. It goes deep into the exploration of the area that is now the US/Canada border by Europeans and the resulting hundred plus years of disputes between native tribes and among European settlers to lay claim to it. I learned a ton about treaties, the fur trade, and small wars and boundary lands that I haven't spent enough time visiting. It of course makes you want to spend some time in part of the country that is easy to miss. It gets a bit de ...more
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
A great mix of travelogue, nature writing, and historical narrative that relates the formation of the border between the US and Canada and the people who have lived near it. Interesting read. My only complaint is that he didn't mention anything about passing under the Blue Water Bridges between Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Ontario.
Aug 26, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 At a time when we are largely obsessed with our southern border, Fox's book adds a healthy reminder that more is going on in the world. This journey is interesting to go on and the history is just the right touch.
Tim Barrable
Excellent read! For a non fiction travel book this was a was a highly engaging and interesting read. I usually read non fiction a bit at a time over months and often never finsish them; but this one, I couldn't put it down.
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This was not exactly what I had hoped for, which I guess was maybe a more literal ‘walk along the border’ cause when he was on a plane going to Minneapolis I was like Wait that’s cheating.
There were some cool facts and anecdotes though.
Matt Pack
Jan 07, 2019 rated it liked it
First book of 2019
Bridget Ervin
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-bookshelf, 2019
I learned a lot more on the discovery of areas of this continent. Felt like the book kind of changed course midway through but still enjoyed the history.
Jul 23, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the book especially the history sections. I would have a couple of criticisms. He seems to forget that Alaska is on the same continent as the lower 48 and he doesn’t travel the entire length of the border of the contiguous states. Very readable and interesting.
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Play Book Tag: Northland - Porter Fox - 4 stars 2 9 Feb 04, 2020 02:12PM  

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Porter Fox was born in New York and raised on the coast of Maine. His book Northland, about travels along the U.S.-Canada border, will be published by W.W. Norton in July, 2018. He lives, writes, teaches and edits the award-winning literary travel writing journal Nowhere in Brooklyn, NY. He graduated with an MFA in fiction from The New School in 2004 and teaches at Columbia University School of th ...more

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If we need a paperweight, we're grabbing a hardcover. Otherwise, we're big fans of paperbacks. They're the lighter, less expensive option—the...
57 likes · 19 comments
“Politicians, federal agents, pundits, and most Americans focus on the line with Mexico, even though its northern cousin is more than twice its length and many times more porous. The only known terrorists to cross overland into the US came from the north. Fifty-six billion dollars in smuggled drugs and ten thousand illegal aliens cross the US-Canada border every year. Two thousand agents watch the line. Nine times that number patrol the southern boundary. According to a 2010 Congressional Research Service report, US Customs and Border Protection maintains “operational control” over just sixty-nine miles of the northern border.” 0 likes
“Ninety percent of Canadians live within a hundred miles of their southern border. Twelve percent of Americans live in the northland, and most of them in cities like Seattle, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and” 0 likes
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