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.
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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 TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved