• Break It Up

  • Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America's Imperfect Union
  • By: Richard Kreitner
  • Narrated by: Adam Verner
  • Length: 15 hrs and 42 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (56 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From journalist and historian Richard Kreitner, a "powerful revisionist account"of the most persistent idea in American history: these supposedly United States should be broken up (Eric Foner).

The novel and fiery thesis of Break It Up is simple: the United States has never lived up to its name - and never will. The disunionist impulse may have found its greatest expression in the Civil War, but as Break It Up shows, the seduction of secession wasn't limited to the South or the 19th century.

With a scholar's command and a journalist's curiosity, Kreitner takes readers on a revolutionary journey through American history, revealing the power and persistence of disunion movements in every era and region. Each New England town after Plymouth was a secession from another; the 13 colonies viewed their Union as a means to the end of securing independence, not an end in itself; George Washington feared separatism west of the Alleghenies; Aaron Burr schemed to set up a new empire; John Quincy Adams brought a Massachusetts town's petition for dissolving the United States to the floor of Congress; and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution as a pro-slavery pact with the devil.

From the "cold civil war" that pits partisans against one another to the modern secession movements in California and Texas, the divisions that threaten to tear America apart today have centuries-old roots in the earliest days of our Republic. Richly researched and persuasively argued, Break It Up will help readers make fresh sense of our fractured age. 

"Kreitner effectively cleans the window that stands between us and our history - or what we believed about our history...richly researched, revelatory, disturbing, and essential to those wandering in the mists of American myth." (Kirkus, starred)

©2020 Richard Kreitner (P)2020 Little, Brown & Company
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"Generations of Americans have been taught that our political system is an ideal balance that works wonderfully well. Today it's becoming increasingly difficult to believe that. In this climate, Break It Up is perfectly timed. It tells us where our national experiment went wrong - and proposes a boldly appealing alternative."—Stephen Kinzer, Boston Globe columnist and author of Poisoner in Chief 

"If you think the United States only recently became fractious, fractured, and fragmented, Break It Up will shake you up. Richard Kreitner tells us a fresh, unsettling, and persistently entertaining story of disunity and secession as the great American way. From the colonial period through the Revolutionary War, familiar landmarks of founding history are seen a new light. The secessionism of the Confederacy takes on unexpected qualities, as do 20th century black separatism, the 1960's counterculture, and feminism, among other things. This book will change what you thought you knew." —William Hogeland, author of Autumn of the Black Snake

"An eye-opening chronicle of separatist movements within the US.... makes a strong case that the impulse to dissolve the union will always resonate." —Publishers Weekly

What listeners say about Break It Up

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Crystallized many thoughts I had over decades

The work is clear, well sourced, and explains in details why we always seem to be at war with ourselves. It asks important questions, such as, what is our nation worth? It also shows that some of our idle thoughts that the nation is not worth all of this friction, chaos, and at times violence, has been often pondered since the conception of the nation. We are not United. We have never been United. This books shows us why and allows us to think of writing a new chapter for this American continent in the future.

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Incredible book on secession's inevitability

This excellent book describes American history in great detail, focusing on the constant looming threat by nearly every major figure and group in the union's history to secede. Though the author is clearly left leaning, I agree with him that we cannot all get along peacefully anymore because we have fundamentally opposing views of what law and justice look like. The union needs a peaceful separation asap.

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What a downer

This book assumes there’s no hope for change and secession is inevitable- our country has survived (though not always thrived), but there is a will for togetherness. We are not ALL self serving. Like a marriage takes effort, you don’t just divorce because of disagreement. You listen to all sides, and find compromise. Hearts need changing not state/country lines rearranging

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It was excellent until

He gets political Barry Obama was the cause of the split not the cure. If you’re sick of the news you’ll surely be sick of this book. I was

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Liberal bias on blatant display

I noticed that the author failed to note anything but racial division with regard to groups such as the KKK or Southern politicians post reconstruction. Not a mention of the political affiliation of those two groups - Democrat. Not a criticism of Roosevelt, Carter, Johnson, Obama, but always criticizing the Republican presidents. I had hoped for a balanced neutral informational book. This is not it. That this authors political affiliation is to the left is not left in doubt.
He had a message in mind and duly avoided content which would have contradicted his message. Case in point was post 9/11. No mention of how the Democrats made a POLITICAL decision to oppose Bush to regain power. A decision that caused unnecessary division and has culminated in our current climate with radicalism on the left growing to the point where they can’t even define what a woman is! And the repeat of the lie that minorities are the victims of police violence disproportionately. Something that complex with more than enough data to refute it and he just states in a melancholy way that things haven’t changed for minorities. I’d like to just say he is lazy and lacks ability. But hat is too charitable. This guy is a liberal hack with an agenda. The book ends up just being leftist propaganda.

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Great message and a little long and drawn out at times

Just read the title-it says it all! I wish some of the detail was excluded and the writer could have made his point in a faster, more efficient manner

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Breathtakingly Topical

Wonderful book on the history of the 'union' that really changes your viewpoint on it today. I only wish I had started it a little earlier as I ended up listening to the last chapter after the Capitol coup, and the chapter just felt so much more topical than I think it would have otherwise.

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Excellent History, But Tainted by Partisan Bias

This is a fascinating detailed description of t he many, many times in American history when counties, states, and regions considered seceding from the United States (and its predecessors). It helps to bring into focus not only the rebellion during the 1860s, but also the fissures that we see today in an electorate deeply divided by region and population density (urban versus rural). The author meticulously describes the forces that threatened to break the union and the reasons that those efforts failed. It's an important supplement to anyone's thorough understanding of US history in general and the fissures of today.

At the same time, in the final chapters, the author rails against one side in our current political divisions, blaming one party for the deep divisions in our nation over race, trade policy, the reality and proposed cures for environmental damage, and a host of other issues. He veiled this bias earlier in the book, although any attempt to label his political persuasion then would be more speculative than provable in a court of law. But in the final chapter or two, he breaks the dam, and his political views become the focus of his narrative.

II would prefer his book to be a history of friction in the country, and his personal views to be published in an editorial or other political commentary.

The narrator was easy to listen to. My only issue is his in correct pronunciation of several words. The name of Concord, Mass., is pronounced con' curd, not con' corde. And the term for creating illogically shaped congressional districts is pronounced with a hard G (as in Garymandering), not a soft G (as in the spelling, gerrymandering). Common issue, given phonetics, but the signer of the Declaration of Independence, former Massachusetts legislator and governor, and former vice president Elbridge Gerry pronounced his name with a hard G. But kudos for pronouncing Worcester correctly (Woos' ter, not Wor' chester). The pronunciation of the name of New England's second largest city trips up many who live outside the region.