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David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

I hate to use a superlative to describe any piece of scholarly work, because there are so many fine pieces of work out there, but I can't think of any single serious history book that has left me more impressed.  It is scholarly -- and shows an astonishing command of a truly amazing collection of primary and secondary sources.  At the same time, it is beautifully written -- one of the few serious scholarly history books that I can, in good conscience, recommend to any reasonably well-educated person -- and have confidence that they will find it interesting.  Mot important of all, it is extraordinarily important, because it shows the still dominant role that America's four British folkways play in creating both the national and regional cultures that still dominate American society.

I read this book while writing my book Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform (Praeger Press, 1999), and Albion's Seed made it possible for me to adequately determine the origins of the backcountry Southern culture of violence that created such havoc in the early Republic -- and created the structure of violence and weapons control that still dominate the current political debate.

I can't adequately summarize this massive and wonderful book in the available space, but let me give you just a clue as to the power of it.  It provides a persuasive explanation for regional variations in housing design, birth month distribution, naming conventions, cooking styles, and male/female power relationships -- and without ever seeming forced to me, the skeptic of "one theory does it all" approaches.

I can't recommend a book more highly than this.