I recently stumbled across a new book by Boston-area university professors Cynthia Enloe and Joni Seager that I highly recommend to everyone: The Real State of America Atlas is a series of charts, graphs, surveys, facts and snippets of text that attempt to give a picture of present-day America.
Enloe and Seager use a series of two-page spreads to cover a broad range of topics, including women’s reproductive rights, gun control, climate change, the militarization of society, prison politics, education and foreign affairs.
The book is wonderful, if only for the factual nuggets on every page. Here are some of the most amazing, odd or fear-invoking factoids I found:
- Starbucks sells 70% of all coffee consumed in the Peoples Republic of China.
- Fewer Americans believe in global warming or the need for gun control than did 10 years ago.
- In the last 40 years, the number of people getting to work by mass transit has fallen from 9% to 5%, and the number who walk to work from 10% to 3%.
- Although 62% of all Americans believe that no country should have nuclear weapons, the U.S. still has 9,600 atomic bombs.
- We incarcerate more people per 100,000 residents than any other country in the industrialized West, and three times as many as any other country except Russia and Georgia.
- About 43% of all American households have guns.
- We spend about twice as much per citizen on healthcare than the nation in second place.
- The richest 1% of all Americans own 35% of all wealth, while the poorest 40% own a mere .2% of all wealth.
Perhaps the most striking map is the one on page 39 of counties won by each presidential candidate in 2008: While garnering 53% of the vote, Obama took perhaps 15% of all U.S. counties spanning across maybe 20% of the country’s geography. Obviously, he won the metropolitan areas with the greater population and lost the sparsely-populated rural areas. The map shows that among the greatest of the many divides in our country today is the one between the cities and close suburbs and the rural areas and far suburbs.
The authors introduce each topic with short essays, and these tend to put a welcomed progressive spin on the issues. I particularly liked their analysis on climate change: “A peculiar climate change denial movement has been forged in the past decade in the US. A few key conservative financiers and energy companies, along with rightwing popularizers, have launched ambitious campaigns to produce uncertainty and doubt in the minds of many Americans about climate change and our responsibility for it…At the policy level, the US has been a poor partner to its industrial allies in crafting international solutions to climate change.”
For the most part, though, Enloe and Seager let the charts speak for them, and they tell a story of an America divided in its opinions and its condition between white and non-white, rich and poor, men and women. They depict an increasingly militarized society dominated by large corporate interests and products. They show an America out of sync with the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to healthcare coverage, climate change, capital punishment, deaths by guns and gun ownership. And they hint at a broken government whose elected officials tend to ignore the will of the majority of the people, except on the issue of gun rights.
The book is a very quick and entertaining read, and it will leave you with a bunch of “gee-whizzes” you can share with your friends and family. You’ll also have a ready reference guide when you want to refute some nonsense that a right-winger is trying to fob off as factual information. Buy and enjoy!