Customer Reviews: The Mayflower and the Pilgrims' New World
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on November 19, 2008
Nathaniel Philbrick has adapted and abridged his New York Times bestselling historical narrative MAYFLOWER: A Story of Courage, Community, and War for a younger audience. THE MAYFLOWER AND THE PILGRIMS' NEW WORLD includes numerous sketches, maps and photographs of artifacts, detailed timelines and insets of historical biographies, all of which add to its accessibility.

The book begins with an English colony of Separatists living quietly in Leiden, Holland, longing for the quiet and familiar English village life now lost to them, and determined to establish a small, inwardly focused colony in the New World where they would be free to worship as they chose. Some of the most vivid prose deals with the Pilgrims' preparations for their journey. The writing deftly captures both their fear of the perilous journey they felt compelled to undertake, and the stoicism and courage of this small and humble congregation in the face of their low odds of success.

Philbrick makes it easy to visualize the triumphs and frustrations of the daily lives of the Pilgrims, from the terrible death toll on the high seas to the difficult first landing in Cape Cod and their subsequent move to the more hospitable Plymouth Bay. An eerie emptiness greeted them on the Massachusetts coast --- a plague had recently decimated the locals. In this dangerous and new land, they encountered the Pokanoket Indians and their charismatic sachem Massasoit, whose initial offer of help and protection saved them from certain death.

The friendship, cooperation and mutual dependence that grew between the Indians and the Pilgrims lasted 50 years. However, as the Pilgrims' reach into New England grew and the Indians began to recognize the threat they represented, and both groups grew less dependent on each other, it became increasingly difficult to maintain peace. Massasoit's son Philip brashly launched a complicated war (now known as King Philip's War) that claimed the lives of eight percent of the men of Plymouth Colony. Terrible as these deaths were to the colonists, the Indians were to suffer even graver losses, with 60-80% of the Native American population of southern New England lost during those and subsequent years through death, disease, being sold into slavery, or by fleeing the region.

Philbrick effectively dispatches the various mythologies and romances surrounding those times, instead giving us complex, fallible and believable figures in Massasoit, William Bradford, Squanto and company. The famed First Thanksgiving meal (probably held in late September or early October of 1621), for example, did not involve Pilgrims and Indians sitting in a tidy group at a long table and praying together as popular Victorian art would have it. Instead, "most of the celebrants stood, squatted, or sat on the ground as they gathered around outdoor fires, where the deer and birds turned on wooden spits and where pottages --- stews into which varieties of meats and vegetables were thrown --- cooked invitingly." There were no pumpkin pies or cranberry sauce. The Pilgrims ate with their hands and with knives, since forks did not make their appearance at Plymouth Colony until near the end of the 17th century. The first Thanksgiving meal was not a spiritual ceremony but more in the nature of a secular harvest festival; the Pilgrims themselves did not use the term "Thanksgiving."

It is utterly fascinating to read a clear-eyed and well-researched account of such significant times in America's history. The descriptions, although not excessively graphic, make it clear that neither the colonists nor the Indians were above butchering women and children, and such gruesome acts as displaying the heads of captured enemies on pikes. Philbrick manages to desanitize an important piece of American history while in no way diminishing the more thrilling aspects of the story or denigrating these beloved historical figures. This book would make a valuable addition to any school library.

--- Reviewed by Usha Reynolds
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on January 9, 2012
In my opinion, this book is best by chapters -- it's great for a student researching a report or looking for specific information. As an adult, I enjoyed the entire book, but depending on the age and ctendencies of your student, you may want to be selective.

This book provides valuable information in maps and portraits and photographs of museum pieces. The maps are particularly good. Don't miss the who's-who at the beginning of the book and the timelineat the end. The book has a good index, and also a Mayflower passenger list.

The first part of the book follows the Pilgrims from England to Leiden, Holland, and explores the personalities, characters and context. We read as they board their tiny ship and set out for America, and we learn about what went wrong with the voyage and the new colony: almost everything.

In the second part of the book, the Pilgrims build their relationships with the native American people, and learn to succeed and prosper in their colony.

The third part of the book deals specifically with King Philip's War, a 14-month series of battles against the entire native population of the region.

The epilogue is a stale rehash of Jean Fritz's book "Who's That Stepping on Plymouth Rock?"

The author, Nathaniel Philbrick, seems to believe that part of his responsibility is mythbusting, but the myths he busts are Baby-Boomer myths about the Pilgrims. He goes out of his way to explode the traditional depictions of the dress, menu, and table settings at the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621. Multiple times. Shocker: kids in 2012 have been brought up with excellent resources like these:

The Landing of the Pilgrims The Landing of the Pilgrims (Landmark Books)
You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Mayflower! You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Mayflower!: A Trip That Took Entirely Too Long
If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 . . . If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620
If you were at the First Thanksgiving Dinner If You Were At The First Thanksgiving
...and many more, simply excellent and up-to-date books. Philbrick isn't breaking new ground here.

He does a good job of showing how the Pilgrims compromised on their ideological purity in order to cooperate with the Indians, the Mayflower crew members, and the "Strangers" who traveled to America with them. When survival was at stake, the Pilgrims overcame their isolationism, while still keeping their principles (the Sabbath as a Holy Day, strong work ethic, etc).

Philbrick makes of a point of detailing the miserable conditions the Pilgrims faced and showing their trust in God's providence. Around page 168, he makes a strong case for individual initiative (not collectivism) as the well-spring of American prosperity. He justifies the amounts paid for Indian land by the settlers as fair transactions between private parties, but he points out that the Indians may not have understood they were giving up all access to the properties, especially in the first transactions. However, as time went by, the sachems were trading land willy-nilly to buy arms to conduct an offensive war; they considered the prices they got to be fair, even if modern eyes see the transactions as entirely one-sided.

Often, the tone of the book is that of Noble And Peaceful And Non-Aggressive Indians fighting solely Defensive Battles against the marauding New Englanders... interspersed with pages of completely understandable and only-to-be-expected Indian raids, arson, and dismemberments of the settlers, who-obviously-had-it-coming-to-them. A bit of a puzzle for young people to sort out the way that intellectuals always blame America first -- but alerting them when they are young to the bias in some literature is worthwhile.

Well-explained battles, great maps, very interesting source material.

Update Nov 2013: Rush Limbaugh's new book treats the topic of the Mayflower and Plimouth colony, but does so in a corn-ball, memorable way for 5th graders and up -- why not try that book, as well? Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans
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on June 1, 2010
The Mayflower and the Pilgrims' New World is a very well written book that I enjoyed immensely. Much of the information contained in this book I did not know and I found it exciting as well as informative. Being a born New Englander with immigrant as well as Native American blood, I am a little ashamed that I did not already know the true story of the Pilgrims and their adventures. This book is not a book that paints a flowery picture of colonial life but a harsh and sometime tragic tale. I am now bitten by the bug to know even more of the rich history of both the New World settlers and the original native peoples. Thank you Nathaniel for opening my eyes to the history in my own back yard...
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on March 1, 2013
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to read this book. It helps put into perspective how this nation was founded and may dis-spell some myths that have become seemingly engrained in our culture.
This is an excellent book. It describes the relevant details of the first fifty years of settlement in New England focusing in on the part played by the Mayflower Pilgrims during this era. From their first encounter with the native people, the King Philip's War fifty years later, and the major events occurring in between, this book captures the evolution of change in the relationship between English settlers and the natives that unfortunately led to the destruction of the native culture and way of life.
The Mayflower Pilgrims, faced a dangerous voyage, a hostile and untamed wilderness upon arrival, scant food sources, an unknown native people, pressure from their financial investors and finally the arrival of many more people that did not share their religious or political views. The book was a revelation to me that there is a difference between the pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower and settled at Plymouth Rock as religious and political separatists and the puritans who did not start arriving in mass until ten years later.
Contrary to what I had been taught and had learned previously, there is much evidence presented in this book to show that the primary purpose for the Pilgrims venturing to the "New World" was political not religious. The Mayflower Pilgrims were on a political rather than a religious pilgrimage. Their religious freedom had been assured when they left England for Holland. In Holland they could practice their separatist view of religion as they desired, it was their separatist view of politics and their desire to remain English that led them to New England.
The content of this book in its entirety will help any reader understand a New England mindset that ultimately led to the American Revolution and is still evident today.
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on February 19, 2010
I love the writing style of this book that was "adapted for young people" from the "adult" version of "Mayflower".
It is a captivating account of the settling of the Plymouth Colony and know that I was happier reading this version (I have several post graduate degrees by the way) than I would have been reading the "adult" version. Five stars and it is no wonder Nathaniel Philbrick won the National Book Award.
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on July 7, 2013
I love Nathaniel Phlbrick's style of writing. Seeing the New World from the actual writings of the Pilgrims and the Indians' point of view is very enriching and makes the historical struggles of both communities so realistic. The true character of the human side of all involved in settling these first colonies gives the reader a strong appreciation for what they really experienced and what spirit and courage and raw human determination of our early forefathers formed the grit that is now our American bravery and courage.
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on April 9, 2014
Since he is in my line and he came over on the Mayflower it is extremely interesting. My direct line off the boat is William White. My mother started all this before she passed 3 years ago. As I read more and more about William White I don't know if she has the correct one. I guess there is one from Leiden and one from London. How do you split them up? Do you know a good book or any authority on this line? That means that our William was not married to Susannah Fuller. Any help out there? Sorry I have been busy and not been able to get through all the books I have bought as I broke a bone in my spine so I was under the weather until I had surgery and had cement put in the disc to glue it back together. I have gone though all the books and highlight things, but that is about all.
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on July 24, 2015
I enjoyed this book. I have family who came to America on the Mayflower it was good to learn more about them.
The book is filled with factual information and the writing style held my interest.
I would recommend this book.
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on November 2, 2008
"Thanksgiving Day has a whole new meaning once the true story of the pilgrims' settlement along Cape Cod comes into light in this book...History comes alive with Philbrick's careful consideration of each puzzle piece.. bringing both worlds of the Puritans and the Native Americans together as they truly happened...(more)" ~ Lynn Pritchett, Contributing Writer at
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on November 21, 2015
The Amazon Kindle version of this book is highway robbery! It cost more than the paperback version and has terrible editing. I'm not talking about an error here and there; the majority of the pages totally ignore capitalization, even in proper name. Many words are misspelled, completely changing the sentence's meaning. Unless you like to read 2nd grade grammar, do not by the Kindle version.
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