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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Book Review: How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr

Before the hurricane hit it last year, did you know Puerto Rico was a part of the United States? How many other US territories can you name? Just one or two? The US Virgin Islands are fairly easy because they have "The US" in the name. And Guam is often listed with them so you might get that too. But there have been hundreds of others. Does that surprise you?

We try to pretend that the US is unique among superpowers in that we never had colonies. But we kind of did. The Philippines. The Guano Islands. It's true that large parts of our former territories are now states: The Western Territory, Indian Territory, Alaska, Hawaii. But some still aren't. Like DC (which oddly is never mentioned, I guess because it's a "district" and not a "territory") they have taxation without representation. And without representation in Washington, it's not too shocking when natural disasters aren't adequately prepared for or repaired, as just one example.

But how and when and why did we get all of these territories? And what fun facts can we learn along the way? Two of my favorites: In 1940, an American was more likely to be living in a territory than to be African-American. 1 in 12 Americans were African-American but 1 in 8 Americans lived in a territory. And how long was the United States totally and completely just the "logo map" of the lower 48 states? No more, no less? In other words, how long after the 48th state did we get our first outside territory?

Learn these fun facts and many more, while also learning why we have territories, what has happened to them in their history which isn't taught in US history classes, and what is to become of them?

[answer: 3 years]

This book is published by Farras Straus and Giroux, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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