Readers are able to grasp that depth because of the diversity of voices in each chapter. In the El Mirage section, for instance, the authors quote a local restaurant owner, a seamstress, a member of the city council and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the national face of Arizona’s anti-illegal-immigration effort. Notably, all those interviewed other than Arpaio are Latino, and that’s representative of the population in El Mirage, allowing readers unfamiliar with the town to get an accurate snapshot of life there.
Reading about each community type is enlightening, whether it’s a community you identify with — District residents would probably relate best to the “Monied Burbs” or “Industrial Metropolis” categories, or perhaps the “Minority Central” tag — or one you know nothing about, which might be the “Tractor Country” of the Dakotas and Montana. The authors provide their entire data set in the appendix so readers can see which category their own county falls into.
“Our Patchwork Nation” represents a unique way of understanding this country, and it is eye-opening in 2010. Yet Chinni thinks that in a decade, the United States will be a whole new kind of patchwork nation.
“We say in the beginning of the book that the country is changing a lot — a lot — and it’s going to look dramatically different in 10 years,” Chinni said. “We have a front-row seat for something that’s going to be a little scary at times, but [for us] as reporters, just very interesting to behold.”