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
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 608 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2009, 608 pages

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Book Summary

Edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, State by State is a panoramic portrait of America and an appreciation of all fifty states (and Washington, D.C.) by fifty-one of the most acclaimed writers in the nation.

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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).

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Media Reviews

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.

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.

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

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

Vy

State by State A Panoramic Portrait of America
“A road trip in book form” is how the editors of State by State describe their book. They believe that in spite of America becoming more homogeneous each year, it still retains an essential deep-grained variety. The search for each state’s ...   Read More

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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 ...

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