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The Fabric of America : How Our Borders and Boundaries Shaped the Country and Forged Our National Identity
An evocative and highly original narrative that redefines America's character and identity.With the same mix of compelling narrative history and captivating historical argument that made his previous book, Measuring America, such a success, Andro Linklater relates in fascinating detail how the borders and boundaries that formed states and a nation inspired the sense of identity that has ever since been central to the American experiment. Challenging Frederick Jackson Turner's famed frontier thesis, he argues that we are defined not by open spaces but by boundaries. Linklater weaves his provocative arguments into a dramatic story line, wherein the actions of Andrew Ellicott, America's greatest surveyor; Thomas Jefferson; the treasonous general James Wilkinson; Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas; and numerous hitherto invisible settlers all illuminate the shaping of the nation. This brilliant book will alter forever readers' perception of America and what it means to be an American.
The focus of this unruly book is one of the unsung founders of the United States, Andrew Ellicott. Linklater (Measuring America) performs a real service in rescuing from near oblivion this surveyor and boundary commissioner who, for 35 years after 1785, laid down many of the borders that now demarcate the United States from Canada and state from state. In a time of difficult and dangerous travel, Ellicott seems to have been everywhere and to have interacted easily with people under Spanish and French rule as well as with Native Americans. Much of the layout of the nation's capital is also his legacy. His tale is told by Linklater with skill and energy, but the author overreaches. Rather than sticking with plats, borders and their surveyors, Linklater in effect relates the nation's entire history through the 19th century. After many others with more authority have attacked Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis, he also takes it on, arguing, not without ingenuity, that the American frontier experience was not the freedom of the wilderness but the lines drawn in previously uncharted ground--around claims, properties, states, and the republic itself. Perhaps, but the case isn't adequately made here.
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April 27, 2008
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