Summary and book reviews of State by State by Sean Wilsey

State by State

A Panoramic Portrait of America

By Sean Wilsey, Matt Weiland

State by State
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Sep 2008,
    608 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2009,
    608 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Inspired by the example of the legendary WPA American Guide series of the 1930s and '40s, fifty of our foremost writers have produced original pieces of reportage and memoir that capture the fifty states in our time, creating a fresh portrait of America as it lives and breathes today.

These 50 writers tell us something lasting and revealing about each state through personal memory or contemporary reporting that captures the essential qualities that make each state its own. With an array of revealing facts and figures comparing the 50 states in a range of surprising measures (toothlessness, military enlistment, suicide), State by State is more than an anthology: It is a classic American road movie in book form. Featuring original writing on all fifty states.

Chapter One

Alabama



Capital Montgomery
Entered Union 1819 (22nd)
Origin of name Possibly from a Choctaw Indian word meaning "thicket-clearers" or "vegetation-gatherers"
Nickname Yellowhammer State
Motto Audemus jura nostra defendere ("We dare defend our rights")
Residents Alabamian or Alabaman
U.S. Representatives 7
State bird yellowhammer
State flower camellia
State tree Southern longleaf pine
State song "Alabama"
Land area 50,744 sq. mi.
Geographic center In Chilton Co., 12 mi. SW of Clanton
Population 4,557,808
White 71.1%
Black 26.0%
American Indian 0.5%
Asian 0.7%
Hispanic/Latino 1.7%
Under 18 26.3%
65 and over 13.0%
Median age 35.8

Alabama



George Packer



In the summer of 1980, when I was nineteen, I worked as a $600-a-month intern at a government-funded poverty law center in Alabama, renting a matchbox house with two black law students at the crumbling edge of downtown Mobile. It was a record hot summer, at a record high in urban ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse

18 members reviewed "State by State", all of them rating it 4 or 5 out of 5 stars! It's clear this one is a winner, and reader Darra W. tells us why

If you've ever wondered about the 21st-century relevance of our national motto - Out of Many, One - wonder no more. This fascinating collection of 50 essays, one per state, each penned by a different writer, is a tour de force of letters and lore, affirming both the rugged individuality and the common threads that personify the American Experience. Each narrative opens with a mini-almanac of state facts; the compendium is enhanced with appendices of relevant tables and a signature of photos, the latter provided by the individual authors.

The essays are eclectic in content and style. The iconic Merritt Parkway surfaces as central metaphor in the mini-memoir penned by Connecticut native son, Rick Moody. John Hodgman's riff on the uniqueness of Massachusetts is delivered with the dry wit of the observational humorist. Jonathan Franzen attempts a tongue-in-cheek interview with New York State. Daphne Beal waxes nostalgic about the life "ballast" cemented by her Wisconsin childhood. Joe Sacco (Oregon) and Alison Bechdel (Vermont) employ the comic strip to tell their stories. Some entries are love songs to "the old home state," others chronicle the immigrant experience, still others recall a temporary, but memorable sojourn to the state in question.

Despite the diversity of subject matter and tone, there are certain recurring threads. The decimation and continued isolation of the native peoples; the emergence (or exacerbation) of intrastate political and geographical polarities; concern for the environment: these oft-repeating themes demonstrate that, regardless of our individual experiences, we do - on occasion - think as one. State by State is the kind of book you can swallow in a gulp, or savor state by state as the mood moves you. It would make a great book club read; if your group is feeling particularly ambitious, pair it up with Travels with Charley, Steinbeck's 1962 classic. (Darra W.)   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (830 words).

Media Reviews
Library Journal

Readers with an interest in the endless variety of attitudes, lifestyles, viewpoints, and experiences to be found across America will enjoy this work.

Kirkus Reviews

Ranges from delights to self-indulgent snores.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Without leaving home or spending a cent on gas, readers of this book can enjoy a scenic view of the entire U.S. that is as familiar as it is disorienting.

Los Angeles Times

Odds are, reading State by State, that you'll fall for every state a little, even if they remain tremendously hard to explain.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

This fascinating collection, inspired by guides in the 1930s and 1940s, includes original essays on each of the states by some of the country's finest (mostly younger) writers.

Salon.com

Ideal nightstand reading and a welcome reminder of the pluribus behind the unum.

New York Times

...funny, moving, rousing collection, greater than the sum of its excellent parts, a convention of literary super­-delegates, each one boisterously nominating his or her piece of the Republic.

Entertainment Weekly

This eclectic collection of essays describing the ordinary people and places within our 50 states is as essential as the Rand McNally atlas. Alternately brash and bashful...each literary foray in State by State is well worth the trip. Grade: A.

Reader Reviews
Sherrill

State by State
what I liked about the book was each author knew about the state he or she was talking about. It was very informative and at the same time reminded me of an illustrated version of John Steinbeck's travels with Charlie and a book by Charles Kuralt ...   Read More

Sande

The Best Vacation I've Had Without Leaving Home
If you're looking for a snapshot of every state in the union, plus the District of Columbia and don't have the money or time this year for a visit: State by State is a great book to read. The editors have solicited essays, and in one case a cartoon ...   Read More

Eileen

State by State
State by State, a book with an essay for each state, is a literary work first, and secondly a historical work. Fifty eclectic writers have presented their assigned states with different focuses, i.e. personal, historical, comical, complimentary, and...   Read More

Darra

E Pluribus Unum...and How!
If you’ve ever wondered about the 21st-century relevance of our national motto—Out of Many, One—wonder no more. This fascinating collection of 50 essays, one per state, each penned by a different writer, is a tour de force of letters and lore, ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

The WPA's American Guide Series

State by State was inspired by the American Guide Series, a project that grew out of The Federal Writers Program (FWP). FWP was established in 1935 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The FWP employed over 6000 Depression-era writers, editors, historians, researchers, art critics, archaeologists, geologists and cartographers. They collected folklore, slave narratives, and other oral histories, committing much of America's intangible history to paper. Thousands of writers worked on the project, making about $80 a month, working 20 to 30 hours a week. The poet W.H. Auden called it "one of the noblest and most absurd undertakings ever ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked State by State, try these:

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hyde
    Hyde
    by Daniel Levine
    In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story ends ...
  • Book Jacket: Shotgun Lovesongs
    Shotgun Lovesongs
    by Nickolas Butler
    Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, follows five life-long friends, now in their mid-...
  • Book Jacket: Gemini
    Gemini
    by Carol Cassella
    How good is Gemini, Carol Cassella's book about a Seattle intensive care physician who becomes ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

Who Said...

All my major works have been written in prison...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.