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Find of the Month: Two compulsively readable books about geography

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"Lost States"

(Read caption) "Lost States" profiles wannabe states like Transylvania, which Daniel Boone tried to establish as the 14th state.

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Want to find out where you are? Check an atlas. Want to figure out how your state ended up on the map in the first place and avoided becoming, say, Franklin, Acadia, or West Kansas? Head to the bookstore and crack open these two entertaining books.

"How the States Got Their Shapes," by Mark Stein

Check a map of the United States and you'll find a whole bunch of weird-looking states.

Some are simple rectangles, like Wyoming and Colorado. That makes sense. But what about the panhandles in Oklahoma and Florida? (Maybe a cartographer was feeling a bit peckish.) The weird little notches in Missouri and Connecticut? And the itty-bitty stretch of Maryland between Pennsylvania and West Virginia?

And don't even get us started about Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Shouldn't a state be all in one piece?

Good questions, and you'll find good answers in 2008's "How the States Got Their Shapes."

The author explains the borders of every state and finds that they're not always the product of common sense. Many owe their existence to blood-boiling land disputes, boneheaded surveying errors, and other accidents of history.

By the way, "How the States Got Their Shapes" inspired a nifty History Channel documentary that aired earlier this year. You can buy a copy on DVD or wait for it to air again.

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