Lately I've been reading a book that made a big impact in Canadian historical circles but that was unknown to me until fairly recently. It's John C. Weaver's The Great Land Rush and the Making of the Modern World, 1650-1900 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003).
It received several awards in Canada: the North American Conference on British Studies Book Prize (2004); the Wallace K. Ferguson Prize from the Canadian Historical Association (2004); the Canadian Prize in the Humanities (finalist, 2004); and, most impressively, the Francois-Xavier Garneau Medal (2010). Although it has much to say about "colonial America" (often implicitly defined as the British colonies south of Canada) and the nineteenth-century United States as well as Canada, it seems not to have had nearly the impact among historians in the U.S. as it did in Canada.
The book offers a comparative view of the British colonial "Neo-Europes" in North America, Australasia, and South Africa, focusing in particular on the role of property rights and land distribution. He draws from a wide variety of examples across empires and (post)colonial societies while engaging theoretical questions along the way. The writing is often dense and academic in style, but it is clear at the same time. That's important for a book that's nearly 500 pages long.
Most useful for my own purposes are chapters three and six, which focus on the practices of land measurement and distribution and the role of surveyors in these practices. But the book as a whole has a greater ambition than merely to outline the ways that property has been distributed. As Weaver notes in the introduction, "Neo-European settlement resulted from a messy convergence of private impertinence and the coercive might of the state" (5). It is this mutual constitution of individual and state through legal rights to property that is most interesting. Each empowers (and can undermine) the other.
Weaver ultimately emphasizes, however, that active government intervention is necessary to restrain the excesses that follow from turning the public domain into private property in the name of that old British, Lockean ideal of "improvement." Perhaps that is why Canadians have been more eager to embrace the book than their Neo-British cousins to the south.
(For a roundtable about the book at the Canadian Historical Association Conference in 2011, have a listen here. It's nearly an hour and a half long; Weaver begins speaking at the 59 minute mark.)