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Another Misleading Puritan Book
on July 24, 2008
The other reviews are correct in that this is an engaging biography, but the condenscension the the Puritans are treated with made me give up reading it in frustration. Today's stereotypes of men in particular, and Puritans in general are all over this book and it is a shame. While the author expresses appreciation for what people like Anne Bradstreet accomplished, she seems to also completely miss the point with statements like, "Anne may have been one of the few to hope that she would not be on this first exploratory mission ashore. However, it soon became clear that her father expected her, her mother, and her three younger sisters to climb down into the tiny skiff that lay tossing up and down in the waves. None of them could swim. But in Anne's world, a good daughter was, by definition, someone who obeyed her parents without question, and so she had little choice but to sweep her sisters along and guide them over the rails of the ship." How else were they supposed to get off the ship?? And conditions being what they were during sea travel in that time, she was probably only too thankful to be among the first to go ashore! Two pages later we are subjected to this, "New England was far from being the 'empty' land that the English proclaimed it to be in order to assert their rights. In fact, this "desert," as the Puritans called it, had been cleared for centuries by the Massachusetts, the tribe that dominated the bay region." "Desert" is a word used in the Bible to denote a wilderness, which New England, however many Indians there were, certainly was to a group of people that had just left Europe with cities hundreds of years old all over it.
To give a broader and more balanced view of the Puritans I highly recommend two books, "The Valley of Vision" a wonderful collection of Puritan prayers that will make you wonder where all the arrogance went, and "The Puritans as They Really Were" by Leland Ryken which explains some of the perceived arrogance they are so often attributed with today. There were certainly arrogant and corrupt Puritans (Salem Witch Trials anybody?), but even there it may surprise people to learn that many of the leading Puritans of the day were absolutely appalled at what happened in Salem. All of this to say, it is exasperating to read another book towing the academic party line on the Puritans combined with little cultural and historical context, and I don't recommend it.