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A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America Hardcover – September 26, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Horn, who heads the library at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, offers a history that will put Plymouth in its place. Not only was Jamestown settled before Plymouth, in 1607, but, says Horn, it was the seedbed of many themes, both glorious (representative government) and tragic (imperialism), that run through American history. In this detailed narrative of Jamestown's first 18 years, Horn focuses primarily on the relationship between the English settlers and the Native Americans. (He gives disappointingly scant attention to the first Africans' arrival in 1619.) Jamestown was the first English colony in North America to succeed; that success was "disastrous" for the Indians. The town leader John Smith figures prominently in Horn's tale. Smith's own written recollection of his captivity by Indians is the source for the well-known story that a young Pocahontas saved his life; Horn dismisses Smith's account as implausibly exaggerated. In Horn's view, a pivotal point in Indian-Anglo relations was the Powhatan uprising of 1622. Any hope that the English might partner with the Indians against Spain and treat them with kindness or justice was killed—thereafter, the settlers were determined to exclude the Indians from their new commonwealth. 12 b&w illus., 6 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A meticulous history of Jamestown, covering its start in 1607 to the final, failed Indian effort to destroy it in 1622, Horn's cautious work tends to be averse to drawing conclusions. Readers seeking inspiration or indignation, as the case may be, from this origin story of America are apt to be stymied by Horn's pursuit of objectivity. He adheres to an event-by-event reconstruction built from contemporary sources (such as John Smith's accounts), which is certainly a justifiable approach. Only faintly present, however, are the abstract motivations of the colonizing project, such as religion. Horn mentions this but is focused, as Smith was, on the immediate, not the millenarian. This often meant obtaining food from the local paramount chief, Wahunsonacock, and Horn's conceptions about the chief's strategies for ridding his lands of the intruding English strengthen this presentation. Popular myths about Pocahontas, the chief's daughter, saving Smith's life fall before Horn's analysis, as does Smith's stature as the colony's dominant leader. Possessing Jamestown's inherent drama, this is a solid rendition of the saga. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (September 26, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465030947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465030941
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #487,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Horn was born in Kent, England, and grew up on the outskirts of London. He taught for 20 years in British universities before moving with his family to the US in 1997. He has worked at the College of William and Mary, Monticello, and is now Vice President of Research and Historical Interpretation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He is the author most recently of A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America; Captain John Smith, Writings; and A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. He is currently writing a book on the great 16th/17th-century warrior chief, Opechancanough.

Horn was one of the research team involved in the news release about "Jane," a young English settler who died and was cannibalized at Jamestown during the terrible starving time winter of 1609-1610. News of the remarkable archaeological findings reached .national and international audiences and is the subject of several TV documentaries in production. For more information go to www.historicjamestowne.org.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By R. DelParto VINE VOICE on May 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
James Horn spotlights Jamestown and places it on the historical map. THE LAND AS GOD MADE IT: JAMESTOWN AND THE BIRTH OF AMERICA offers a definitive narrative about the first English settlement in North America, and finally gives Jamestown its due after centuries of school textbooks placing Massachusetts and the Pilgrims at the forefront of American history. In commemoration of the establishment of the Jamestown colony in 1607, Horn examines the importance of the settlement economically and religiously, and how it affected the relationship between the English, Spanish, and Powhatan Indians.

Horn balances his narrative with the discussion of the origins of the founding of the settlement and the events that occurred thereafter. He examines how the English planned to utilize natural resources and produce manufactured goods in order to be self-sufficient from England suggest that the English wanted to establish a mercantile industry in Virginia as well rival the Spanish empire in all aspects, which also included religion. Missionaries attempted to convert Native Americans and Africans toward Christianity. Horn emphasizes that "England's claim to vast lands between Spanish Florida in the South and French territories in the far North that were inhabited by the Europeans" (285). The book acknowledges the success of the Jamestown colony and clarifies misconceptions and myths that have been indoctrinated within the historical narrative. Horn does not romanticize the Jamestown story and those who contributed to the establishment of the settlement, and debunks myths that existed between John Smith and Pocahontas.

As an after thought, Horn emphasizes the significance of Jamestown and the affects of major historical events.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
We will hear more about the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, as its 400th anniversary approaches in 2007. The anniversary will perhaps restore a balance. According to James Horn, in his stimulating history _A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America_ (Basic Books), many Americans have forgotten Jamestown. They believe that the Pilgrims founded America, but that was in 1620. Even with the appeal of the Jamestown stories of John Smith and Pocahontas, the birth of our nation in Virginia (part of the backwater South) was relegated by professional historians to a status secondary to that of New England (part of the progressive North). The Pilgrims were originally aiming for Virginia, but they missed (or they had a last minute change of plans). It was Jamestown that was the first enduring colony in America, and Jamestown that put into practice three basic principles: "private property in land, a representative assembly for ordering local affairs, and civilian control of the military." Jamestown also was the starting point for slavery in America, and for vicious wars against the indigenous peoples. As Horn notes, America would have been vastly different if Jamestown had failed, and it could have failed at any number of points in its history. This scholarly book, largely through first-hand sources, puts the colony in its rightful place.

Among those first 144 colonists was Captain John Smith, who got into trouble even before landing; he was accused by the leaders of the expedition of plotting "to usurpe the government, murder the Councell, and make himselfe kinge.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on November 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
"A Land as God Made It" tells in magnificent fashion the story of the formation of the Jamestown colony in what became Virginia, the first permanent British outpost in North America. Established in 1607 and therefore approaching its 400th anniversary, the colonists of Jamestown contended with an entirely new environment, with Native Americans, starvation, interpersonal difficulties, and a host of other challenges to succeed in creating this colony. The work narrates in an exciting and accessible fashion the dramatic actions of Captain John Smith and his troupe in Virginia. The most critical element of their early survival rested on Smith's relationships with the Powhatans, the native peoples of the region who helped the colonists through several difficult experiences. Author James Horns also tells here the story of Smith and Pocahontas, a story both more complex and intriguing than that offered in the Disney version of American history.

In search of wealth, glory, and the conversion of the natives to Christianity, the Virginia colony survived by a thread for its first decade. It survived a succession of crises until John Rolfe proved that tobacco could earn a profit, and thereby placed the colony on a path toward self-sustainment. The very success of the colony demonstrated that the British were a serious threat to the Powhatan way of life and in 1622 they rebelled in a bloody war that lasted several years before the native peoples were defeated. Although the Virginia colony survived this war, but just barely, it decimated the joint stock company that oversaw it, and in 1625 Virginia became a royal colony under the suzerainty of the King of England.

This is a very skillfully written account of the first twenty years of the Virginia colony, demonstrating very clearly how the British established a foothold in North America. It is a worthwhile and at times exciting reading experience. Enjoy!
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