Searching for good books to teach us about North Carolina

by DG Martin

I am always looking for books to tell me more about North Carolina. Because my friends know I am looking, they are always asking me what I have found that is good.

They know one kind of book that I like most is the ‘“World Almanac’” type, with a lot of facts crammed into a small area. We need a North Carolina almanac, and I like to report when I find a book about North Carolina that is ‘close.’

A new edition, ‘“The Old North State Fact Book,’” published by the state government’s Office of Archives and History contains much of the information that I would like to have in my ideal North Carolina almanac. There is a good brief history of early North Carolina, a list of the governors from the time of the ‘Lost Colony’ all the way to Michael Francis Easley, and descriptions of things that the legislature has declared to be the ‘“official North Carolina’” something.

For instance, there are descriptions and illustrations of the cardinal and the dogwood, which have been the state’s official bird and official flower for many years. I bet you knew that.

But do you know the state mammal (gray squirrel), the state tree (pine), or the state insect (honeybee)? Or our state’s official shell, reptile, rock, saltwater fish, precious stone, rock beverage, historical boat, dog, tartan, vegetable, berries (yes, there are two of them, probably the result of a legislative compromise), and wildflower?

We also have an official military academy (Oak Ridge Military Academy, which was, ironically, originally founded by Quakers). We have two official aviation museums, one in Wilmington (the North Carolina Museum of Aviation) and one in Asheboro (the North Carolina Aviation Museum). Confusing? It was almost certainly the result of another legislative compromise.

The book sets out the state motto (Esse Quam Videri ‘— ‘“To be rather than to seem’”), the toast (‘“Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine’…’”), and the state song (‘“Carolina, Carolina, heaven’s blessings attend her. While we live we will cherish, protect, and defend her’….’”)

There is more, but, of course, not enough more for me. I am still looking for the comprehensive almanac. Until then, ‘“The Old North State Fact Book’” will stay close to my desk.

I also search for North Carolina history books. We need short ones that creatively give us the information we need to better understand the background and history of the place where we live. One book coming out this summer, ‘“The North Carolina Quiz Book’” by Alan Hodge, offers that kind of help.

Hodge delivers information about our state by asking several hundred multiple-choice questions about North Carolina topics from food, to the military, to holiday occasions.

Here is a sample question (You can check the answer at the end of the column):

‘“In what year did the North Carolina Railroad Company complete the full 223-mile route that ran between Raleigh, Goldsboro, and Charlotte?

A. 1856; B. 1899 or C. 1870.’”

After you have read and tried to answer hundreds of such questions, you will be a better-informed North Carolinian, even if you don’t know the correct answers until you look them up in the back of Hodge’s book.

This brand new quiz book is a reminder of the continued availability of ‘“The Ultimate North Carolina Quiz Book,’” by Charlotte Observer reporter and editor, Lew Powell, published in 1999. Powell asks about 500 questions on North Carolina topics, divided into these categories: arts and letters; commerce and science; culture; environs; music and entertainment; sports and recreation; and wars, elections, and other differences of opinion.

Here are a couple of the types of questions that Powell asks (Answers at the end of this column):

1. In a 1948 game at N.C. State, Yale’s first baseman went 3-for-4 with a triple, double, three RBIs, two runs scored, a sacrifice and a stolen base. Who was he?

2. What city’s board of aldermen voted in 1889 to trim the budget by eliminating ‘“eighth-grade education in the graded schools at public expense’”?

These two quiz books will not teach you all the North Carolina history that you can learn from William Powell’s classic ‘“North Carolina Through Four Centuries.’” But they will give you the chance to learn while you are having fun. Take one of them with you the next time your family is taking a long trip to see who knows the most about North Carolina. And when the trip is over, everybody in the family will know more about the place we live.


First question: A.1856. Next questions: 1. George Bush (the senior, of course). 2. Raleigh (Just remember, it was a long time ago)

‘“The Old North State Fact Book’” is available from the state’s historical publications section. 919-733-7442.

‘“The North Carolina Quiz Book’” will soon be available from Our State magazine. 800-948-1409.

‘“The Ultimate North Carolina Quiz Book’” and ‘“North Carolina Through Four Centuries’” are available in many bookstores or directly from UNC Press.’  800-848-6224.