How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein

How the States Got Their ShapesHow the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If history books in high school and college were this interesting, I might not have developed my hatred for the subject. Stein’s writing is factual but also entertaining. I had no idea about all the competitions, even small wars, over state borders. Another big surprise was how well Congress planned the development of the states west of the original colonies. Many of the oddities one sees in the borders were due to geographic necessity or common sense, usually involving natural obstacles like rivers or mountains. Politics played a big part, too, and there was occasional corruption and certainly greed played a role. I was amazed at some of what I learned, but it did become quite repetitive toward the end, since the same explanations were given again and again as most involved several states. I will point out one geographic fact that may be lost by some readers. The author points out how Congress tried to make various of the western states the same width or height as measured by degrees of latitude or longitude. He doesn’t mention that degrees of latitude are fixed distances, but degrees of longitude are not. The farther north one goes, the narrower one degree is. The southern end of New Mexico is just under six degrees of width and measures 350 miles. The northern end of North Dakota is about 6.5 degrees in width (more degrees) but only about 315 miles across. So the “equality” stressed in the book is only approximate.

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