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 have ever since been central to the American experiment.
Linklater opens with America’s greatest surveyor, Andrew Ellicott, measuring the contentious boundary between Pennsylvania and Virginia in the summer of 1784; and he ends standing at the yellow line dividing the United States and Mexico at Tijuana. In between, he chronicles the evolving shape of the nation, physically and psychologically. As Americans pushed westward in the course of the nineteenth century, the borders and boundaries established by surveyors like Ellicott created property, uniting people in a desire for the government and laws that would protect it. Challenging Frederick Jackson Turner’s famed frontier thesis, Linklater argues that we are, thus, defined not by open spaces but by boundaries. “What Americanized the immigrants was not the frontier experience,” Linklater writes, “but the fact that it took place inside the United States frontier.” Those same borders had the ability to divide as well as unite, as the great battle over internal boundaries during the Civil War would show. By century’s end, however, we were spreading US power beyond our borders, an act that, seen through Linklater’s eyes, offers an intriguing perspective on our role in the world today.
Linklater’s great achievement is to weave these provocative arguments into a dramatic storyline, wherein the actions of Ellicott, 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. Download and start listening now!