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Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts Hardcover – May 25, 2011
History To Repeat & Some To Not
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With breathtaking sweep and profound learning, Daniel K. Richter synthesizes the histories of Europe, North America, and the Atlantic world from the late Middle Ages to the late eighteenth century -- and he does it, in ways that no previous writer has managed, without carving his story into discontinuous regional narratives or succumbing to the teleology of the American Revolution. This book is nothing less than a masterpiece. (Fred Anderson, author of The War That Made America)
By placing early American history fully in its Atlantic contexts and seeing all participants as historical agents, Before the Revolution allows us to understand the genuine parallels as well as the contrasts in the experience of Americans through their layered pasts. (Karen O. Kupperman, author of The Jamestown Project)
An astute, thoroughly enjoyable mixture of political, economic and social history that culminates in a turbulent 18th-century North America whose people did not consider themselves on the verge of revolution but knew that things were not right. (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 2011-03-15)
[Richter] demonstrates that U.S. history did not begin with the American Revolution, convincingly arguing that the ideas that manifested themselves in the mid-18th century with the rebellious colonists had their origins in such varied locales as the Mississippian Southeast and Europe of the Middle Ages...Any history written by this preeminent historian is an essential read for everyone interested in the deeper history of the United States. (John Burch Library Journal 2011-04-01)
So far it is one of my two or three favorite non-fiction titles of the year...Definitely recommended. (Tyler Cowen marginalrevolution.com 2011-04-07)
An elegantly written attempt to see colonial America from the indigenous perspective...In Richter's grand system, the continent's history comprises successive waves of adventurers, one atop another. Although the American Revolution "submerged these earlier strata," he argues that they nonetheless "remained beneath the surface to mold the nation's current contours." Walking atop the topmost strata, in other words, are thee and me, the terrain around us shaped by those who came first. The approach is bold, original and insightful...[A] masterly account...Before the Revolution is a book that by its very boldness invites intelligent argument. Every few decades, historians develop a new way of looking at the past. I am not talking about "revisionism" but unifying conceptual schemes, the sort of mental framework that Frederick Jackson Turner created in his argument for the importance of the frontier to our history or that Bernard Bailyn established in his studies of the American Revolution's ideological origins. Historians debated Turner for a long time and continue to debate Bailyn. I wouldn't be surprised if they were arguing with Richter a decade from today. (Charles C. Mann Wall Street Journal 2011-05-07)
Ultimately, [Richter's] history is a history of violence, of violence perpetrated by Europeans against Native Americans, by Native Americans against Europeans, and by both peoples against their own kith and kin. It is a dark and brutal story, although one in which the Native Americans are shown as for long holding their own, manipulating Europeans as trading partners and playing off one set of Europeans against another until the overwhelming British victory of 1763 no longer made this possible. There is precious little uplift here, and little sense of the more constructive characteristics of the brave new world that was rising amid the wreckage of the old. But, in patiently uncovering the layers beneath the rubble, Richter forcefully brings home to us that the American past belongs to many peoples, and that none should be forgotten. (J. H. Elliott New York Review of Books 2011-06-09)
The core of the work is a vivid, well-paced, stimulatingly opinionated and provocatively selective history of colonial Anglo-America...[A] spirited and engaging history of British North America...Richter's trenchant language excites enthusiasm. He evokes picturesque episodes engagingly--the agonies of Roanoke, the role of European goods in Powhatan power structures, the peripeties of indentured servants, the intolerance of Protestant fanatics, the poverty of seventeenth-century colonial home life, and the struggles of proprietors, rebels and crowns. (Felipe Fernández-Armesto Times Literary Supplement 2011-09-23)
The most important history books make us rethink things we think we know. In Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts, Daniel Richter shows us a land built by successive waves of adventurers, immigrants and merchants, one atop the other. He insists on the primacy of human action in history--something not always popular in academia today. (Wall Street Journal 2011-12-17)
[An] unusual and useful synthesis of North American history between 1000 and 1763. (D. R. Mandell Choice 2011-12-01)
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Top Customer Reviews
Richter's work stands among several others of note for this time period. Fred Anderson's "The Crucible of War" is another richly detailed and comprehensive account of some of the same period.Read more ›
The author draws many parallels between North Americans and European developments during the Medieval Warm Period. While Europeans were building magnificent cathedrals, the indigenous Americans were busy constructing huge mounds for burials and other religious rituals. And on both continents, a pyramidal caste structure emerged to enrich and enthrone the most successful thugs and warlords. This is the true origin of all who claim royalty. Similarly, the origins of capitalism, and patriarchal entitlements are shown to be a consequence of English and European fiefdoms.
Professor Richter's wonderfully concise condensation of centuries of interaction between competing parties is both a blessing and a curse. Each chapter is filled with so many points worthy of contemplation that I was routinely frustrated by the pressure to continue on without pause. Thankfully, he provides a superb epilogue to sum up many of the points that might occur to the reader along the way. For instance, he points out that the Native Americans were by no means passive victims of European aggression, land theft, and racism. Indeed, they had become skilled in the process of playing one European super-power against the other, to increase their own power and dominate their traditional foes.Read more ›
His interpretive goals however do not seem fully achieved. His aim is to describe several eras of colonization and interaction thematically, and he labels them, successively, as those of Progenitors, Conquistadors, Traders, Planters, Imperialists, and Atlanteans; and he further attempts to demonstrate how each of the latter eras manifested the themes of those preceding it. So he is attempting an interpretation that is somewhat at odds with itself -- delineating separate eras in colonial history, but also arguing that the dominant themes of preceding eras were always manifest. Neither goal is completely achieved: Not every of his eras in colonial history seems so distinct, and the connections Richter purports to draw often come across as more his own personal view than truly evidence-based.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Excellent analysis, compelling arguments, and fascinating vignettes paint a picture of colonial America.Published 5 months ago by Nick Cavaioli
Very readable history of the settlement of the North America (mostly U.S.). The book covers the relationship between Native American tribes and the differences between that and the... Read morePublished 7 months ago by M. Yates
Along with Alan Taylor's American Colonies, this is the best one volume history of colonial America, broadly conceived.Published 18 months ago by History Reader
This is a case in which Kindle was not a friend of the writer. The Kindle version excluded all pictures and caused what could have been a very good experience into a ok experience. Read morePublished on August 4, 2013 by parallel
Read it...excellent and one more nail in understanding the recent history of this little piece of turf we call America. Read morePublished on December 28, 2012 by B. R. Muldoon
I wanted to really like this book. It covers an interesting period in North American history. The author is clearly knowledgeable and passionate about his subject. Read morePublished on August 21, 2012 by M. Keenan