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Very good though not quite spectacular social history
on September 20, 2002
The only genuine problem with this excellent book is that it does not compare favorably with some of the other books in this series. For instance, if one turns to this after reading Schlereth's amazing VICTORIAN AMERICA, one is scaled down the book seems in comparison. This is not the fault of author David Hawke. The problem is the paucity of details in everyday life in 17th century America compared to the late 19th. Unfortunately for Hawke, the life of Americans in the 17th century was rudimentary and, of necessity, simple. What makes VICTORIAN AMERICA such a delight is the almost overwhelmingly amount of delicious detail.
Nonetheless, life in 17th century colonial America is apt to be less familiar to most readers than that of late 19th century America, and this book performs an enormous service in providing a concise, well-written overview of what that life was like. Hawke is especially good at exploding various myths that have evolved over the years concerning colonial life. Unlike the later volumes in the series, Hawke deals, by dint of necessity, of the larger historical situation.
Some of the topics that Hawke takes up include the structure of towns and villages, the nature of farms and the crops grown, houses and the types of objects found within them, the health of the settlers and treatment of illness, social stratification, indentured servitude and slavery, relations with Native Americans, and various superstitions. If the book was somewhat less exhilarating than some of the later books in the series, it nonetheless is quite informative. I highly recommend it to anyone wishing to learn more about the nuts and bolts of colonial life.