Maps and Stuff...

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America - Colin Woodard Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth About the "Real" America - Dante Chinni, James Gimpel Ph.D. The Clustered World: How We Live, What We Buy, and What It All Means about Who We Are - Michael J. Weiss The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart - Bill Bishop The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown - Paul Taylor, Pew Research Center

 

I love stuff like this, popping up in my social media feeds or googles; imagine a United States where all of the states are equal in population, thus making a congress more representative of the states and their populations. And those names are great, too. Just like some alt history novel!

 

In the past, I have like many kids who grew up reading derivative fantasy novels, been fascinated by maps. You knew an epic quest novel would not be complete without a map of the continent or world in the front pages, along with maybe a few inserts for cities or fortresses or whatever. Even a fictional place just feels more real if denoted in a concrete, static map- if it is mapped, it's like it exists.

 

However, I also enjoyed studying maps of that most detailed and deep world setting, Earth. I was, in fact, the only person in my 7th grade class to successfully pass the geography of Africa quiz (not that I’m bragging). All of those countries, mountain ranges, rivers, economic zones, what did they all mean? Why were they there? To this day, I love a good map. Of course, I have been particularly obsessed recently with how maps can help us understand the culture of a region, and how maps can change. As another campaign year begins to ramp up, more and more maps of the country show up on the social media feed, trying to examine how populations in one region of the country can affect the politics of the entire nation. Over the last few months, I've checked out some interesting books discussed maps and demographics; here are a few of them, along with links to my Goodeads reviews, where I write in more detail about them.

 

I still am a bit obsessed with Colin Woodard's arguments in his book American Nations, even if it is not a perfect account. There is still much to think about in his historical background of the various cultural groups that make up the federations of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and I have come to refer to them whenever I think about regional differences during my travels. Even while reading other books, I consider the origin of the author and what effect their origin may have on their work. As a Minnesotan, I can definitely recognize the influence of early "Yankee" elites here in the state, making for a strong, social justice style environment with strong labor laws, education, and quality of life, but also one in which conformity is rigid (see treatment of indigenous people)- I still feel much more at home visiting Canada than the times I've traveled south. See here for a quick rundown of Woodard's arguments.

 

An interesting companion piece to American Nations is The Big Sort, which is a more overtly political work, though by now a little dated. In this book, Bill Bishop argues that the political process has become deadlocked due to more and more people relocating to communities that share only their own values, thus never having to confront people who disagree and electing more extreme politicians who cannot compromise. 

 

Meanwhile, Our Patchwork Nation and the older The Clustered World, divide American communities into different groups based on marketing techniques, which, to me, makes them the least accurate and broadest of all. There are some interesting factoids presented in these books, but for the most part these seemed less insightful to me, more quickly dated, and in general, more anecdotal. By dividing populations solely by demographic information, these accounts lose a lot of context- why are "Campus and Careers" communities more common in the North? Why are Bohemian Mix found only in urban areas- what about college towns or rural environmental enclaves? Some of it feels too artificial to me. Also much of what can be found in these two books can be access onlilne, and in more updated versions, too, here and here.  

 

I was attracted by The Next America by the map on the cover, and wondered if the author would explore what makes certain regions more attractive to people in certain demographics, and while they do, to a point, this is another account of how changing demographics will transform American society in coming years. A lot of food for thought here, from topics like the idea of the "digital native," diversifying demographics, how American society is following the rest of the developed world to forgo organized religions, and delay marriage and children longer than previous generations.

 

A lot of it is very interesting, and there are plenty of amusing and edifying facts, like that a 20 year old today has a higher likelihood of having a living grandmother they would of having a living mother in 1900. Each of the chapters reminds me of one of those interesting articles you find online and get distracted reading through while you should be working on something else. However, the "looming generational showdown" as ominously included in the title (what they might call "click bait" online) turns out to be a rather minor part of the work as a while, which generally holds a strikingly optimistic view. On the other hand, little is discussed on how things might work out, good or bad.

 

Think I'll close out this entry with another little piece of theme music!

 
*Theme music for entry: "Upside down from Here," Atom and His Package, Redefining Music, 2001