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Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America's Imperfect Union

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  163 ratings  ·  37 reviews
From journalist and historian Richard Kreitner, a provocative, timely and eye-opening excavation of the most persistent idea in American history: these supposedly United States should be broken up. The novel and fiery thesis of Break It Up is simple: the United States has never lived up to its name--and never will. The disunionist impulse may have found its greatest expres ...more
Published August 18th 2020 by Little, Brown & Company
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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John Munro
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
The author goes to great lengths to show that the idea of secession from the Union is not a concept unique to the Civil War. It has been suggested as a solution to American political dilemmas since the Revolutionary era. He cites the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions during the Adams administration in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts and many other examples though the Civil War up to the current day. At various times throughout the history of the country, individual and group of states ha ...more
Some reflections on the creation of United States of America (Two stars)

America is in a state of crisis, says the author. After reflecting on precolonial days that lead to the American Revolution, and challenging times in building the nation, he observes that it is more polarized towards division rather than a union! He sees flaws in the founders’ wish to forge a democracy: The new world did not create American exceptionalism but produced radicalism and failed hopes. According to him, the purita
David Dayen
Nov 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
A terrific corrective on the history of our exceptional union, which from the beginning has been on the verge of cracking apart. The final 160 years are compressed into 80 pages, and I'm not convinced that disunion in that era is more than a rhetorical device. But the early history from the Revolution to the Civil War is fascinating. ...more
Jo Stafford
Nov 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Break It Up poses some big questions about the state of the Union while demonstrating that today’s fracturing along regional, sectional, political, and racial lines is not an aberration. We already know this, of course, but Kreitner’s survey of secession movements encompasses more than the Civil War, revealing the persistence of disunionist sentiment in American history from the very founding of the republic to calls for California to secede in the wake of the 2016 election.

Kreitner pays close a
La Crosse County Library
Having read this book after the violence that erupted in the Capitol on January 6th, I will admit to having chills running down my spine at the eerie historical parallels raised in this book. National discontent and strife are “American as apple pie” as the clichéd saying goes, predating the American Revolution itself.

History is truly more complicated than our national myths of an indestructible Union would have us believe. I love books that challenge our preconceived notions of history, narrat
Carl Hendrickson
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyable account of many of the little known conflicts throughout our history. Who knew so many groups had so often wanted to strike out on their own?

I recommend this for history fans looking for something more than what they learned in school.

A little discouraging towards the end. Perhaps its the recency of the events? However, ultimately the author dangles the hope that we can adapt to make the union work.
Nov 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 rounded up. The sections focusing on the colonial era and pre-civil war were excellent. I wish Kreitner had spent more time on 20th century and modern secession movements, as one chapter for 1900 to 2000 did not feel like enough space to delve into Black secession movements or the Western Redoubt movement (and AK and HI barely got a mention). Also, Ruby Ridge is in Idaho, not Montana.
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An essential and engaging history of "disunion" in American politics. The question of whether our nation should continue has been present since the moment it was created, and the answer deserves regular re-examination, especially given the complexity of our current climate. ...more
Dan Mccarthy
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 20-in-2020
While the beginning of the work dragged out for me, Kreitner hit his stride in the discussion of secessionist ideas in the 19th century and into the present. He impressively outlines how threats of secession were commonplace, and the fact that South Carolina threatened to secede was less surprising then the fact that it actually did that time.

This passage was really eye opening for me: "Today, those who defend the right of secession often downplay the evils of slavery and the extent to which the
B Kevin
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Very timely. Division has a long history in the US. I guess we have often been on the brink of disintegration. I particularly like the colonial and pre civil war section. We were never taught that in school.
Sep 24, 2020 rated it did not like it
Well, the author has read some stuff people in the past wrote. That’s nice for him, but there’s not enough data here to make comparisons of then and now really possible. Reading it made me long for a really good analysis of a recent dissolution. Maybe I’ll go see if anyone’s been able to get at good info on the end of the USSR.
Nov 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a really timely and enlightening book that illustrates how division within the States isa feature, not a bug--and it asks us to really consider why we insist on this union.
Oct 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very timely and lucid overview of the persistent thread of disunionist and separatist political movements in US history. I ordered this book the same day I first heard about it, and it definitely helps add nuance and heft to the conviction that some kind of secession or break up of the United States is the best answer to the insoluble and urgent challenges that our hopelessly broken federal system prevents us from addressing.

There are times when I wish Kreitner's analysis would slow down and g
Christopher Mitchell
This is one of several books that I would never have picked up absent a recommendation from a trusted friend. Within a few chapters, I despaired of having potentially missed it.

Must like Barry' Lynn's Liberty From All Masters, it offers a history and context that is important but has been mostly ignored (or suppressed). The discussion about the role of the Constitution in preserving slavery and the large push by northerners for the north to secede blew my brain. I'm guessing it has been mostly
Mirissa Sorensen
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was ok
In a word, this book is “meh.”

I wish there was more about the modern issues that came as a result of disharmony throughout American history. While it was interesting to read about the history through the lens of the day (including the rabid “sham unionism” from the south post Civil War and the perpetuation of white supremacy), it didn’t make it to the 1900s until there was 50 pages left in the book. Instead the bulk of this book was rehashing the same thing dozens of times: the Northern Republic
Feb 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
So this book took me a while to get into, but ended up being a pretty interesting read given the world we are living in. It is largely a look at pre-civil war American history through the lens not of "why did the civil war happen" but "what took so long for the civil war to happen", looking at the various moments that it seemed like the country was going to break up. It certainly contains a lot of looks at various succession movements we are less familiar with. =

Two critiques of this book, one w
Mar 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
A novel way of telling US history from the colonial period through the Trump presidency. Southern Confederates during the Civil War weren't the first Americans to try to secede from the Union. They were just the most successful.

Before Fort Sumter, New England Puritans, Aaron Burr, and Californians were just some of those who seriously planned and even tried to establish their own nations.

After Appomattox, southern secession continued through a cold Civil War, but more surprisingly, groups acro
Dave Fransen
Mar 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating! Such a great book. We're always taught that 1861 and the secession of the South from the U.S. is the incident in which America was dangerously close to (or over the edge of) breaking up as a union. This book describes DOZENS of times and examples throughout its history in which this country has been threatened with disunion by separatist groups. Who knew the governor of North Dakota made a real attempt to withdraw from the U.S. in the 20th Century? The book of course focuses a good ...more
Sarmat Chowdhury
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book that documents the attempts at breaking up United States into smaller autonomous entities based on regional, cultural, and political differences from colonial times to the modern era. While I highly recommend that this book be read in accordance with other historical books (“The Field of Blood” by Joanne B. Freeman being one) to add more context for many of the case studies shown, the book can be read for those both familiar and unfamiliar with many of the chapters of American ...more
Alice Lemon
This was a really interesting book, and honestly better than I usually expect of a non-academic history. I certainly hadn't realized justhow common calls for secession were from the Revolution to the Civil War, and I certainly hadn't understood the Burr Conspiracy at all. The portion of the book that covers secessionist movements after the Civil War is also interesting, even if Richard Kreitner has trouble finding much in the way of really serious secessionist movements after the Reconstruction. ...more
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Everything about this book is fun to read until the last two chapters. Then the author talks about how the Democrats are the true champions of equality and Republicans are the party of the Confederacy's racist legacy. The author then chimes in with what he thinks are great ideas to keep the country more democratic: eliminate the Senate and Electoral College. In this he fails to realize taking these institutions away would easily result in secession by those stated not in power, because we would ...more
Stephen Selbst
Kreitner's book starts out strong with a cogent analysis of the sectional struggles between North and South that began at the time of the 1776 revolution and eventually resulted in the Civil War. He also has a clear -- if strongly opinionated -- view about the current political divide and its origins. And he's hardly alone in suggesting that the current divide may eventually lead to a break-up. But his thesis that threats to break the US apart have been a persistent part of our history is not we ...more
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Holy sh*t, this book is good! And it couldn’t be more timely, either.
I am a refugee and to many people who had to flee our homeland, America always represented a beacon of hope, unity, and solidarity. I always viewed this country as the blue print of what democratic society should be like. I was naive and young, so I forgive myself.
The disunity in our country has never been cleaved along the North/South factions. In fact, just about every corner of this country has wanted, and in many cases co
M. Tenenbaum
Dec 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
As much as I love history, this was a tough read. I might have walked away from it, but unfortunately it's in my DNA that if I start a book, I finish it. I think that a flaw of this book is spending too much time on the revolution and Civil war and as long as he was talking about current events, he should have spent more time on it. In other words, the book was unequally weighted to earlier history. I will say that I never really stopped to think that the Civil War isn't necessarily the fault of ...more
Jim Verquist
Nov 06, 2020 rated it liked it
This book tells the story of the many efforts at secession in America’s history. We have never been, “one nation, indivisible.” We barely came together at all, and the union has always been frayed.

One disappointment is the author focuses solely on secession efforts. In other words, entire states trying to secede from the union. He does not cover any efforts to try to change the system of government itself.
Jason S
A book that I found surprisingly useful. Could be titled A Secessionists History of the United States. Some of the examples don’t really hold up to show that the country has always had a push for disunion, but the early chapters about the colonial and antebellum period are persuasive. Some fascinating things I hadn’t previously explored, especially about the Mormons in Utah and previous attempts there at disunion. A long read but very well researched.
Zach Church
Mar 04, 2021 rated it liked it
The central premise is that the nation was born in compromise and only continued compromise (usually northern acquiescence to Southern demands) has held it together.

That's not an original notion, but what the book does have going for it is quite a bit of interesting reading about the variety of lesser-known regional secessions and threats of disunity. I enjoyed reading about some of the more militant abolitionist folks, though there too its not new ground, just very competent new packaging.
Danilo DiPietro
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Eye opening! Explodes the myth that our union is strong. The examples of disunion described by Kreitner are too numerous to list here and they cut across regional and cultural lines. Many of his examples were known to be but many were new and those I knew about took on deeper significance. Hare but necessary book to read and discuss.
Peter Podbielski
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a critical and essential read for every citizen and aspiring citizen of the United States. Our national myths will persist. However, Richard Kreitner offers a piercing analysis to better understand our national character.
Dec 02, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
It's a great book, lots of interesting history, but it's pretty heavy reading and eventually I just gave up on it. I read about a third of it, but needed to bring it back to the library without finishing it. Maybe someday....nah, probably not. ...more
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