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The Not-Quite States of America



I listened to a fascinating book recently -- The Not-Quite States of America by Doug Mack. This book was about the United States territories. As a lover of non-fiction books, I considered this the perfect type of book for entertainment purposes because it covers a subject of which everyone is aware, but about which very few people know. However, as a book club book, it was lacking because the contents resulted in the learning of facts, rather than discussion points -- though there were a few.

Prior to reading this book, the only things I knew about the territories is that they existed, that Puerto Rico and Guam were two of them, and that my co-worker has a heck of a time at the local license branch with people understanding that her husband from Puerto Rico is able to get a driver's license.

Now I know there are five territories administered by the United States -- American Samoa (I also learned how to pronounce this), Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are slight differences between each of them as incorporated territories, unincorporated territories, and commonwealths. If people are born in certain territories, they are United States Citizens while others are considered "nationals," rather than citizens.

I found it interesting that there is a general lack of concern/interest in the territories by residents of the 50 states. The author describes it like a type of forgetfulness. These territories were acquired in different ways throughout the years, but are generally attributed (by the author) to the phase of American history that was obsessed with manifest destiny and empire building. At this point, the USA has acquired them and generally forgotten about them. On the same token, the residents of the territories seem to have an irresolute attitude toward the USA. The author visited each territory in preparation for the writing of the book and found that most residents don't seem to have an opinion, or there are strong contradictory opinions as to whether each territory should be independent, fully incorporated as a state, or remain in the current arrangement.

In general, the book was a repository of cool and interesting facts about the territories -- population, languages spoken, history of native people, food and customers, odd ways they interact with the USA, etc. As a small takeaway, I learned that regular US postage rates apply to the territories. Something a little more substantial is how the book forced me to reflect about what the purpose is of these territories, which seems to often end up with a military consideration.

For anyone keeping track:
-This book was read as part of my two-person book club
-I used the hoopla app to borrow this book in audio from my local library

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