The Fabric of America: how our borders and boundaries shaped the country and forged our national identity (2007) by Andro Linklater is built on a thesis that the idea of the United States being defined by the frontier and rugged individualism – with Frederick Jackson Turner as a major proponent – is not true. Instead of the frontier, Linklater believes that our nation is defined by our frontiers, the national boundaries fixed by government agencies. Within these boundaries, Linklater contends instead of wanting less government, pioneers brought government with them in the form of surveying, land claims, squatters’ rights, and establishment of local governments.
Most of the book doesn’t really stick with the thesis but instead is a history of the United States’ borders. A major portion of the book tells the story of Andrew Ellicot who surveyed the boundaries of Pennsylvania (picking up where Mason & Dixon left off), Washington, DC, and the boundary between the U.S. and Spanish Florida. There are lots of interesting historical facts about how the nation and states took their shape as well as the practice of surveying, of which Ellicot was an innovator.
The portions of the book from Ellicot’s death in 1820 to the present feel rushed and unfocused. Linklater’s theory about how our nation’s boundaries defined us feel tacked on to the more interesting historical narrative. Still, this was an interesting and quick historical read.