Customer Review

67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely fascinating, December 19, 2012
This review is from: The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675 (Hardcover)
To a reader like myself who's fairly familiar with aspects of British and Irish history but hardly at all with American history, especially early stuff, this is fascinating. I didn't know that the earliest efforts to colonize Virginia were such a disaster -- people were dying like flies over there, even as entrepreneurs sought recruits to sail to new lives in what was presented as a terrestrial paradise. The lure of land, the development of the tobacco trade, and later the fur trade, the relations with the indigenous peoples, the blending of religious and commercial motives, the context for the behavior of the natives -- Bailyn lays it all out very deftly, blending a chronological organization with a geographical one. The cases of Maryland and New England are very different from Virginia's (and each other) despite the overlap in time. The idea of colliding cultures (English and native American) that one finds in the blurb oversimplifies things. There is no single English or European culture, and the native tribes have likewise their own pressures and agendas. So it's a complicated story to tell, and at times the reader might be overwhelmed with colonists' names and Indian place names -- and more maps would help, I think -- but the main lines of the various stories (for there isn't just one) are clear. Bailyn seems to be aiming at the general reader, but some work is required. Some Tudor and Stuart background helps, and it helps to know, for example, what a joint-stock company is and what English policy towards Ireland was in the early 17th century. Readers who aren't up on such things need to do a little work, but it's worth it. A couple of impressions to indicate what I find fascinating: first, the juxtaposition of the almost Darwinian struggle against nature, disease, and indigenous natives that is being waged in Virginia c. 1623 by people struggling also to just stay alive, while back in London very sophisticated financial transactions (and political transactions) are being undertaken to get people to a place where most of them would die in fairly short order. Second, I didn't know that Maryland was founded by Catholics who sought to establish a colony of tolerance but who found, when the Jesuits insisted on proselytizing both the natives and the Protestant colonists, that they (the Catholic governors) had to appeal to the Pope to get the Jesuits to back off. They were afraid that the English government -- trending increasingly Protestant prior to the English Civil War -- wouldn't support, maintain, or fund an aggressively Catholic colony. So . . . if this kind of stuff is news to you, get this book.
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Reviewer

Stanley Crowe
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: Greenville, SC

Top Reviewer Ranking: 958