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How the States Got Their Shapes

To teach us the boundaries of the states, my seventh-grade geography teacher would hold up cut-outs and we would raise our hands, vying for the chance to identify which state had the corresponding shape. How we distinguished Wyoming from Colorado, both rectangles, eludes me these many years later. Maybe she just didn't include them. After all, how much value is there in knowing which rectangle is Wyoming and which is Colorado?

Later in life, I came to realize that there is value in learning about the borders of Colorado and Wyoming, but that value resides, not in knowing what their shape is, but why it is. Why, for instance, are the straight lines that define Wyoming located where they are and not, say, ten miles farther north or west? Asking why a state has the border it does unlocks a history of human struggles -- far more history than this book can contain, though this book does aspire to unearth the keys.