“From thirteen original colonies, as every schoolkid knows, the USA has become a nation of fifty proud states.” But as Doug Mack goes on to explain in his latest book, there’s more to the story. We don’t, strictly speaking, have colonies anymore. Instead, we have territories. And commonwealths. And insular areas. (And the District of Columbia, but I’m guessing you’ve heard plenty about that particular location.) In The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA, Mack — travel writer and self-proclaimed lover of Americana — sets out to discover more about the parts of our country which might not have a star on the flag, but are still woven into the fabric of the US.
Over the course of the book, Mack logs more than 30,000 miles, visiting more familiar locales like The US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico before heading out to less well-known destinations, such as American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. Each gets its own section of the book, delving its history, its relationship with America, and both the challenges and benefits of its unique status. One of Mack’s greatest strengths is his ability to mingle big-picture musings on history and cultural identity with wry humor and vivid, unexpected glimpses of everyday life. There are visits with beer-swilling pigs, Samoan football coaches who routinely send players to the NFL, Chamorro barbecue, and hat-stealing trickster spirits, in addition to musings on military service, community, and identity. The result is a quirky, engaging guidebook to places you might not have learned about in school, but probably should have.