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The River Where America Began: A Journey Along the James Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (March 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0742551725
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742551725
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,202,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Deans begins his absorbing history of life along the James River 15,000 years ago with Paleolithic hunter-gathers, and ends with President Abraham Lincoln taking Jefferson Davis's chair in the Confederate White House. In between, Deans demonstrates how the 340-mile river, stretching through the heart of Virginia, served as the headwaters of American history. The first two-thirds is a richly detailed history of people and events, including the founding of Jamestown in 1607. Deans vividly describes the story of Pocahontas and John Smith, the famines and Indian wars from which only one in six colonists survived, the landing of the first slaves in 1619, the emergence of the planter aristocracy and Virginia's role in leading Americans to independence. This book also details the remarkable 1775 meeting of the Virginia House of Burgesses in Richmond, which was led by the pen (Thomas Jefferson), the sword (George Washington) and the tongue (Patrick Henry) of the Revolution. Anyone with an interest in early American history should appreciate Deans's mix of natural and cultural perspectives.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A consciously populist history of Virginia's settlement and growth up to 1865, this narrative is crowded with personalities and flavored with idiosyncratic opinions. Whatever seriousness Deans, an experienced journalist, sacrifices by imagining how Chief Powhaten might have taken advantage of cable news television, he makes inroads on readers who regard history as old and irrelevant. He inducts them into the Jamestown saga beginning in 1607, introduces them to historical questions (Did Pocahontas save John Smith's life or did Smith invent the story?), and chronologically concludes with Abraham Lincoln's 1865 journey up the James River to the incinerated capital of the confederacy. The signal events of the intervening period, such as the 1622 Indian attack on Jamestown, Bacon's rebellion of 1676, and the American Revolution, are recounted against the background of the James River's geography and, most saliently, slavery. Deans' interlineal commentary reflects the zeitgeist's critical stance toward America's origin story, while his fast-moving presentation successfully engages interest in an overview of Jamestown and its aftermath. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Very knowledgable writer.
Aaron Cavanaugh
The author lacks focus and doesn't seem to notice or care that the book is a an arrogant rambling of his personal thoughts and opinions.
lovedogs
I almost put this book down in the first chapter because of the pretentious, run-on sentences.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Stefania on May 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you only have time to read one Jamestown book, read this one. Deans gives a thorough history of the founding of Jamestown, puts it into historical context, both in terms of the English and the Native Americans (and not too much later, the Africans, who were essential to the success of the Virginia colony) with a style that is both poetic and crisp. He has a great ability to step back to assess the historic significance of the quotidian tasks of building a society in the New World, while also getting up close and personal with the very real human beings who built it. He covers a lot of ground while including colorful detail and character studies of John Smith, Pocahantas, Powhatan, and others. If you're going to visit the Jamestown area, this book is the ideal companion, because Deans also covers the area's role in the American revolution (Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson both had their roots along the James) and the Civil War, from early slave revolts to the fall of of the Confederate capital at Richmond. All in all, a joy to read.

Stefania Pittaluga, Washingon, D.C.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By John Festa on May 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very good summary of the start of the English settlements along the James River. I enjoyed two aspects particularly:

- Went all the way to the civil war and showed how Lincoln used the river to visit Richmond.

- Good details about the N. American Indians, and how it looked from their perspective.

Some of this book reads like a classic. The words are almost like poetry.

The best book I have read this year.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael F. Kennedy on September 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderfully written, informative book that focuses on the history that happened on the James River from 1607 to 1865.

Like any good storyteller, Deans illuminates specific characters (John Smith, Pocahontas, Powhatan, Patrick Henry and Abraham Lincoln among them), to shed light on the whole. And the whole is this: That the two original sins of the American experiment -- our near-genocidal treatment of the Indians and our institution of black slavery -- began here, early in our formative years, on the banks of the James River in Virginia. At the very same time and in the very same place, began our very real belief in a democratic government of laws and not of men.

On this river was nurtured the the notion that all men were created equal, even as those who proclaimed liberty and equality denied it (and increasingly codified that denial) to a whole race of men and women.

That such schizophrenia of national psyche could not long endure seems obvious. And the fever that provided the cure finally broke here, too, on the banks of the James in April 1865.

This is a terrific book. However, the publisher, I believe, has let the writer down in two respects: It could use more maps. When Deans writes of someone rounding this point, exploring this tributary or inhabiting that island, I want to have a map close at hand to see for myself. There are a few maps, and they are good, but I would like more.

And here's a thing sure to rankle any West Virginian ex-copy editor: In the chapter on John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry (then Virginia, today West Virginia), it says he was hanged in nearby Charleston. As any Mountain Stater (and probably even some Virginians) know, Charleston, the state capital, is in the south central part of the state.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
The topics and some of the facts in this book are fascinating. Deans' writing style is infuriating however. I almost put this book down in the first chapter because of the pretentious, run-on sentences. Here's an example from page 166 about Thomas Jefferson:

"And many a winter's evening slipped past in the upstairs bedroom where he and the other children swapped ghost stories while candlelight shadows crept along the high, molded ceiling and walls, pressed wind-burned faces against frosty windows at the sound of approaching hoof beats in the snow, and breathed in cool dawn air laden with smoke and ash as the fire in the bedside hearth burned low."

Dude......shut up! Was there an editor for this book? This drivel is typical of the writing throughout the book. I can't count how many times I almost tossed it in the fireplace. I kept at it though, because I was interested in the subject.

Elsewhere, Deans writes at length about the relationship between General McClellan and Lincoln, and pretty much paints Lincoln as the cause of all of McClellan's problems. Read "Team of Rivals" for a more accurate portrait.

Finally, don't even bother with the epilogue. Deans quotes W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice extensively about equality. He quotes Rice and Tony Blair equating the debacle in Iraq to the American Revolution. This is supposed to be a historical book, not a Republican whitewash of the illegal war in Iraq.

I still say it's worth reading. It's not worth buying though. Get it from the library.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lynn R. Westergaard on June 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you didn't take or do well in early American history class, this book will go a long way to help. Bob Deans, informatively and entertainingly, chronicles the first foreign footprints on American soil. In doing so, he sympathetically gives the natives their due, while exploring with reportorial acumen, the inexorable march, good and bad, toward democracy, all of which started "along the James," in Dean's beloved state.
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