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The Founding Fathers Reconsidered Oxford University Press USA 1 edition R. B. Bernstein


31st October 2011 History Books 31 Comments

Here is a vividly written and compact overview of the brilliant, flawed, and quarrelsome group of lawyers, politicians, merchants, military men, and clergy known as the “Founding Fathers”–who got as close to the ideal of the Platonic “philosopher-kings” as American or world history has ever seen.

In The Founding Fathers Reconsidered, R. B. Bernstein reveals Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and the other founders not as shining demigods but as imperfect human beings–people much like us–who nevertheless achieved political greatness. They emerge here as men who sought to transcend their intellectual world even as they were bound by its limits, men who strove to lead the new nation even as they had to defer to the great body of the people and learn with them the possibilities and limitations of politics. Bernstein deftly traces the dynamic forces that molded these men and their contemporaries as British colonists in North America and as intellectual citizens of the Atlantic civilization’s Age of Enlightenment. He analyzes the American Revolution, the framing and adoption of state and federal constitutions, and the key concepts and problems–among them independence, federalism, equality, slavery, and the separation of church and state–that both shaped and circumscribed the founders’ achievements as the United States sought its place in the world.

“Read Bernstein’s book if you can. It’s both a reminder of how fallible the Founding Fathers were–and yet how good they still look to us nearly a quarter of a millennium later.”
– Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic

“The Founding Fathers Reconsidered brims with insights and revelations, and the jargon-free prose is a genuine pleasure to read.” –Journal of American History

“Prolific historian Bernstein (adjunct, New York Law Sch.) follows up the brief biography Thomas Jefferson with another accessible work of popular history on a weighty topic… Recommended for general readers seeking an introduction to the legacies, political careers, and disparate roles of these men in the creation and early leadership of a new nation.”–Library Journal

“A logical and easily read examination of the history that made the Founders, the history they made, and what history has made of their handiwork.”–Kansas Free Press

“Unsurpassed in his knowledge of the vast literature on the subject, Bernstein is admirably suited to the task. He is also an efficient retailer, having packed a great deal of informed exposition and wise commentary into a small, compact book of just over 250 pages.”–New England Quarterly

“Bernstein’s erudite and marvelously accessible take on the Founding Fathers is a gem. With masterful economy, wit, insight, and expertise, he makes a familiar story come newly alive in his portraits of the men who made the American Revolution and the early republic. This book should be on the shelf of anyone interested in America’s founding era.”–Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family and Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

“Even in the wake of innumerable learned commentaries on the subject, Bernstein manages to shed new light on the work of the men who framed the Constitution… The brief sketches of the various framers are likewise masterful and, Bernstein’s focus on how their disagreements continued to play out in constitutional showdowns for decades to come–indeed down to the present–lends depth often lacking in treatments of the era.”–Virginia Quarterly Review

“Bernstein offers his readers an engaging and erudite account of the men who carried the colonies down the path to Revolution and then took up the task of creating a new nation. In the process, he provides a history of how the founding fathers came to be both idealized and debunked and the role historians and historical events of the 19th and 20th centuries played in shaping the reputations of men like Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton. This is a book with something important to say both to those new to the story of the nation’s founding philosophy and those who have long been students of American politics and culture.”–Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History, Baruch College & The Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution

“A masterly volume brimming with apt description and insightful analysis, The Founding Fathers Reconsidered respectfully brings America’s most cherished heroes firmly down to earth.”–History Book Club

“This is a sparkling book. The endnotes alonethe product of decades of serious study and thoughtful reflectionare worth the volume’s price. Scholars and thoughtful lay readers alike will find The Founding Fathers Reconsidered a rich and rewarding work.” –Claremont Review of Books

“Bernstein has something quite helpful to offer-a succinct and engaging discussion of the founders that contextualizes them both in their time and ours and shows how their actions and legacies have been interpreted in the popular and scholarly discourse… In little more than 150 pages, he manages to draw out some of the most interesting and pivotal moments of the founding, describe them in ways that will make them accessible to students, and then show how the ideas they represented are still relevant today. The breadth of scholarly and mainstream topics and ideas Bernstein invokes to illustrate his points is truly impressive.” –Jane E. Calvert, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

“Bernstein eloquently discusses the contributions, struggles, flaws and virtues of the seven key founders throughout the book… a thoughtful, accessible read that will appeal to broad audiences looking for an introduction to the founding era… and the basis for the enduring debates that shape our understanding of the founding era and constitutional controversy.”
–Mark Rush, Law & Politics Book Review

“Clearly written and with general readers in mind, Bernstein’s account synthisizes much recent scholarship as he traces the history of the term ‘Founding Fathers,’ offers definitions of what it has meant over the years, and discusses those it has includeed and even those it ought to include…Recommended.” –CHOICE Reviews

“Read Bernstein’s book if you can. It’s both a reminder of how fallible the Founding Fathers were — and yet how good they still look to us nearly a quarter of a millennium later.”– Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic

“This book’s great strength is in accomplishing what its author set out for it it to be: a graceful, manageable introduction to some of the best recent scholarship on the Founding Fathers and the issues that surround them.” –American Nineteenth Century History

“R.B. Bernstein provides a succinct and fair-minded overview of the controversies…. Bernstein’s excellent overview will prove a helpful and impressive guide for the interested general reader.”–Journal of Southern History

“A lucidly written and capably argued accomplishment…likely to satisfy the curiosity of readers looking for a brief and lively review of the Revolutionary Pantheon.” — The Journal of Law and History Review

R. B. Bernstein, Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law at New York Law School, has written, edited, or co-edited nineteen books on American constitutional and legal history, including Thomas Jefferson.

“Read Bernstein’s book if you can. It’s both a reminder of how fallible the Founding Fathers were–and yet how good they still look to us nearly a quarter of a millennium later.”
– Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic

“The Founding Fathers Reconsidered brims with insights and revelations, and the jargon-free prose is a genuine pleasure to read.” –Journal of American History

“Prolific historian Bernstein follows up the brief biography Thomas Jefferson with another accessible work of popular history on a weighty topic… Recommended for general readers seeking an introduction to the legacies, political careers, and disparate roles of these men in the creation and early leadership of a new nation.”–Library Journal

“A logical and easily read examination of the history that made the Founders, the history they made, and what history has made of their handiwork.”–Kansas Free Press

“Unsurpassed in his knowledge of the vast literature on the subject, Bernstein is admirably suited to the task. He is also an efficient retailer, having packed a great deal of informed exposition and wise commentary into a small, compact book of just over 250 pages.”–New England Quarterly

“Bernstein’s erudite and marvelously accessible take on the Founding Fathers is a gem. With masterful economy, wit, insight, and expertise, he makes a familiar story come newly alive in his portraits of the men who made the American Revolution and the early republic. This book should be on the shelf of anyone interested in America’s founding era.”–Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family and Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

“Even in the wake of innumerable learned commentaries on the subject, Bernstein manages to shed new light on the work of the men who framed the Constitution… The brief sketches of the various framers are likewise masterful and, Bernstein’s focus on how their disagreements continued to play out in constitutional showdowns for decades to come–indeed down to the present–lends depth often lacking in treatments of the era.”–Virginia Quarterly Review

“Bernstein offers his readers an engaging and erudite account of the men who carried the colonies down the path to Revolution and then took up the task of creating a new nation. In the process, he provides a history of how the founding fathers came to be both idealized and debunked and the role historians and historical events of the 19th and 20th centuries played in shaping the reputations of men like Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton. This is a book with something important to say both to those new to the story of the nation’s founding philosophy and those who have long been students of American politics and culture.”–Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History, Baruch College & The Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution

“A masterly volume brimming with apt description and insightful analysis, The Founding Fathers Reconsidered respectfully brings America’s most cherished heroes firmly down to earth.”–History Book Club

“This is a sparkling book. The endnotes alonethe product of decades of serious study and thoughtful reflectionare worth the volume’s price. Scholars and thoughtful lay readers alike will find The Founding Fathers Reconsidered a rich and rewarding work.” –Claremont Review of Books

“Bernstein has something quite helpful to offer-a succinct and engaging discussion of the founders that contextualizes them both in their time and ours and shows how their actions and legacies have been interpreted in the popular and scholarly discourse… In little more than 150 pages, he manages to draw out some of the most interesting and pivotal moments of the founding, describe them in ways that will make them accessible to students, and then show how the ideas they represented are still relevant today. The breadth of scholarly and mainstream topics and ideas Bernstein invokes to illustrate his points is truly impressive.” –Jane E. Calvert, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

“Bernstein eloquently discusses the contributions, struggles, flaws and virtues of the seven key founders throughout the book… a thoughtful, accessible read that will appeal to broad audiences looking for an introduction to the founding era… and the basis for the enduring debates that shape our understanding of the founding era and constitutional controversy.”
–Mark Rush, Law & Politics Book Review

“Clearly written and with general readers in mind, Bernstein’s account synthisizes much recent scholarship as he traces the history of the term ‘Founding Fathers,’ offers definitions of what it has meant over the years, and discusses those it has includeed and even those it ought to include…Recommended.” –CHOICE Reviews

“Read Bernstein’s book if you can. It’s both a reminder of how fallible the Founding Fathers were — and yet how good they still look to us nearly a quarter of a millennium later.”– Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic

“This book’s great strength is in accomplishing what its author set out for it it to be: a graceful, manageable introduction to some of the best recent scholarship on the Founding Fathers and the issues that surround them.” –American Nineteenth Century History

“R.B. Bernstein provides a succinct and fair-minded overview of the controversies…. Bernstein’s excellent overview will prove a helpful and impressive guide for the interested general reader.”–Journal of Southern History

“A lucidly written and capably argued accomplishment…likely to satisfy the curiosity of readers looking for a brief and lively review of the Revolutionary Pantheon.” — The Journal of Law and History Review

The Founding Fathers Reconsidered










  • 31 responses to "The Founding Fathers Reconsidered Oxford University Press USA 1 edition R. B. Bernstein"

  • TrafficWarden
    9:54 on October 31st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    As always I can disagree with some of this authors statements, but I believe that he gave a fair review of those men who were instrumental in taking the big chance of founding a new and different form of government for people who were interested in a new and different way fo life. A way that relied on people developing their own government rather than being dictated to by a government that really had no interest in anyone in the colonies, except as a way of making there life in England better. Because these people were not perfect they sometimes get castigated for various reasons. It is amazing to me how people can do a great job of Monday morning quarterbacking on all kinds of situations including the founding of our country. Most of the faults that occur with our country are due to exigencies that happened then and were part of the total society and had to be accepted or nothing would have happened. Since then the growth of government and other activities have created situations that have made it worse. It is still the greatest country on earth, mainly due to their foresight.

  • John Baxter
    12:48 on October 31st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    I first noticed the Native American void in history books just a few years ago. I was trying to find which tribes lived near Frederick Co. Maryland, and the information simply wasn’t there. I am a hired researcher, so when I say the information wasn’t there, I mean that it would take the average person about a year to track down anything at all on the topic. There is a real void in the history of the Americas and there are very few books that treat pre-colonial, non-European American history with any sense of depth or fairness.

    This book truly gives you a full-scale idea of what shaped the Americas into what they are today. Finally you can read about what was happening with the native population during the time of contact and conquest. Finally you can get an idea about the environmental and economical impacts of colonialization, both in the Americas and in Europe.

    This book is truly a history of “actions” and not “thoughts”. Often what we learn in American schools today is what the Puritans were thinking about doing, or what our founding fathers wanted to create out of the Americas. Instead, we learn about the actions they actually took. Which colonies took up the practice of slavery, and why? How succesful where the Puritans in being pure? What was Colombus really thinking?

    While the book feels slanted to the leftist mentality, I think you’ll find the author treats all groups fairly, focused on their actions and not their intentions. The few books I’ve read that tried to cover a more holistic history of the Americas usually go too far in the opposite direction, painting all colonists as depraved ravagers, and all natives as white-washed saints. Instead, this book portrays both peoples in their full depth, portraying a complicated, terrible and all too human history.

    While I mostly address the native vs. European issue in this review, there is much more going on here. Impacts of trade, morality, religion, government all play out. This is the book we all should have read in our Intro to American History class.

    To finish up, this is one of those rare books that I think everyone should read. We will never understand how we can do better unless we learn what we have done wrong. I was truly floored at how much new information was here. Why is it so difficult to find books that cover the full scope of U.S. history? How can we understand what’s going on in our country, if we don’t understand how it even came to exist?

    This book is easy to read, well-written, and amazingly well-researched. If you want a real idea about what shaped the Americas into what they are today, this is what you should be reading. (10 out of 10)

  • nedendir
    14:14 on October 31st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    This is a gem of a book. Weighing in at only 176 pages of text, Mr. Bernstein provides us with a nice overview of the Founding Fathers–the world they lived in, the country they created, the mistakes they made, the success they enjoyed, and the legacy they left for future generations. This is not a hagiography nor is it a revisionist denunciation of a world created by a group of “white European men.” Instead, Mr. Bernstein eschews the “false choice between unreflective praise and unreflective censure.” He contends that we should recognize the founders “as human beings who dared greatly and achieved greatly, but who were beset by all the flaws and failings common to the rest of humanity.” [p. 113]

    When we study our history, there is a tendency to believe that the outcome of great events was foreordained. As the author Philip Roth once said: “History is where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable.” Bernstein demonstrates that Washington, Franklin, Jefferson et al. never thought of themselves as “Founding Fathers” and shared grave doubts about the outcome of their decisions. Indeed, the author notes that the term “Founding Fathers” did not appear in public discourse until 1916–Warren G. Harding was the first to utter this phrase (something to remember the next time you want to win a bar bet). While the Revolutionary War generation knew that they were embarking upon a remarkable experiment, they did so with an appreciation of the risks and uncertainties involved. As Benjamin Franklin famously observed after the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “Gentlemen, we must now hang together; otherwise, we shall hang separately.” Also, they viewed this experiment in democracy through the prism of their experiences and circumstances without the benefit of hindsight. While they lived at the fringes of European civilization and embraced the Age of Enlightenment, they were separated by a vast ocean and constantly struggled to earn the respect of Mother England. Further, reconciling the internal differences between the thirteen colonies to form a cohesive union was a herculean task, one that many thought impossible.

    If you want a nice introduction to the accomplishments and shortcomings of the Founding Fathers and a healthy perspective on the legacy they left us, pick up Mr. Bernstein’s book.

  • cjinsd
    20:49 on October 31st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Bernstein lived up to his premise in the book in that he intended neither to build them up nor tear them down, as so many authors have done. I found the book quite balanced and offered a fresh look at our Founding Fathers. Definitely worth a read for all those interested in that period of American history.

  • Seano
    1:45 on November 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    In “American Colonies,” historian Alan Taylor has created an easily accessible yet highly informative overview of the crucial first era of the history of North America. Taylor does an admirable job of elaborating on the simple framework of names and dates that bore so many contemporary students; he discusses geography, agriculture, trade, as well as the cultures and religions of the myriad groups (both native and European) that created colonial America.

    Rather than attempting to cover the entire continent in a continuous chronology, Taylor breaks the book into 19 chapters, each describing one geographic area during a given time period (e.g. “Virginia 1570-1650,” “New England 1600-1700″). I found this organizational choice to be very effective; it makes the scope of the topic manageable and also allows one to easily research a specific area. The chapter setup is all the better due to the content choices Taylor has made. Rather than focus solely on the 13 British colonies, the book also spends time on the Spanish and French settlements. I fear that many people think Columbus discovered North America in 1492 and then nothing happened until the Pilgrims landed in 1620. Taylor corrects that misperception by including two chapters on the Spanish settlements in Mexico, New Mexico, and Florida before even touching on the British colonies. There are also two chapters on New France and Canada that give greater meaning to the Seven Years War. I was most pleased, however, with the chapter discussing the British West Indies, a geographic area completely ignored by many US History courses. Yet as Taylor explains, the West Indies at that time were FAR more valuable to the Crown than the mainland colonies! These chapters are a much needed corrective, but they are not given disproportionate coverage: a large majority of the book focuses on what was to become the continental United States.

    The story of the early United States is largely a story of European-Indian interactions, another topic Taylor handles well. Rather than taking Native Americans for granted, he spends the first chapter explaining their origins, the migrations across the Bering Strait, and their lives before European contact. But the eventual clash of cultures is the dominant story and Taylor states the case bluntly: beginning with the Taino on Hispaniola (p. 38-39), Europeans conquered, murdered, and enslaved native peoples on an unthinkable scale. But Taylor lets the evidence speak for itself and does not lecture the reader or take the opportunity to moralize. Furthermore, he dispels several myths about Indians that seem to be creeping into popular belief. Indians were not inherently peaceful peoples: the Five Nation Iroquois had gruesome rituals of torture (“The seventeenth century was a merciless time for the defeated on either side of the Atlantic” [p. 103]) and raided the Huron to near extinction. Nor were they pre-modern environmentalists: “Natives usually showed restraint, not because they were ecologically minded in the twentieth century sense, but because spirits, who could harm people, lurked in the animals and plants” (p. 19). All in all, I thought the book presented a very balanced and detailed account of the Native Americans.

    Although I read this book on my own time, I could not help but appreciate what a great book it would be for students, either high school or college. (It is the first volume of The Penguin History of the United States, edited by Eric Foner.) First, Taylor does not assume a great deal of prior knowledge and goes out of his way to clearly explain concepts that other books might not. For example, Taylor explains the English Parliament in a way that would be very helpful to those not familiar with British history while not boring those of us who know more (p. 120). The Glorious Revolution (p. 278) and the advent of Quakers (p. 264) are both handled in a similarly informative way. The book also includes the relevant maps for each chapter, a great boon to students familiarizing themselves with geography. Finally, the book is based almost exclusively on secondary sources. This point concerned me at first, but I came to love the fact that for any topic I could look in the extensive bibliography and find an entire book on that particular subject.

    Given this praise, why only four stars? Basically, I’m stingy with the five star reviews. While I found this book extremely informative and easy to read, it was never thrilling. This lack of excitement is no fault of the author, the topic is just too broad to be gripping: colonial America covers too much time, too much space, and too many figures (none of whom can be adequately fleshed out in such a broad survey). Ultimately I found “American Colonies” to be a consistently good book (perhaps the best on the subject as a whole) but not an excellent book. I do, however, very much look forward to reading Professor Taylor’s other book, “William Cooper’s Town,” for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.

  • Ripel
    3:38 on November 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    The real strength of Alan Taylor’s work is not only in his scholarship on colonial America but in his bibliography! As you can read in all the other reviews Taylor does an excellent job describing the people -common and uncommon-, events and ideals that shaped North America. I particularly enjoyed his treatment of Canada and the Caribbean.

    Let me just quickly state that the lack of citations is disappointed considering how good this book is.

    What impressed me most was Taylor’s bibliography. It is fairly extensive and provides some very good recent academic work in the field. Most are secondary accounts and provide for further research into these areas. I also enjoyed how Taylor provided a few comments in his bibliography on his sources. He also doesn’t simple just reference general works but provides sources on important people and events. In short, Taylor’s bibliography is a true gem and should be consulted for further research.

    Overall, the book is great and the bibliography is even better. He does get a point off for lack of in-text citations. This is an excellent place to both get an overview of early American history and a place to find further resources for study. And finally check out Taylor’s “Divided Ground” for further study of Native American History.

  • TrafficWarden
    4:03 on November 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    As an educator, I am often frustrated in my pursuit for new GOOD history books that I know will provide the information my students will need and is presented in a way that I know my students will be able to understand. Too many books either talk down to students or are so cerebral and sophisticated that they leave them dumbfounded or bored or both. Alan Taylor’s look at pre-Revolutionary War North American continent is brilliant, engaging, and written with a flair that interested readers and students will embrace.

    America’s history began well-before the first Europeans arrived, and Professor Taylor goes to great lengths to reinforce that simple concept which most histories tend to ignore. Tracing back to the earliest settlers, Taylor evokes an era that is strangely primitive–strange in the sense that we are conditioned to conceive America as being born modern, as though the pavements, skyscrapers and railroads were already here when the Europeans arrived.

    Although a long book, it reads very quickly, and the maps and illustrations throughout are easy to read and, more urgently, relevant. I look forward to future installments in the Pengiun History of the United States series.

    Rocco Dormarunno
    College of New Rochelle

  • Jim Levitt
    9:48 on November 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    The problem with this book is that it tries to be two books in one. Viewed by itself, it is a thoughtful, interesting and modern analysis of the settling of the entire continent of North America and the impact colonists had on native populations and the environment. But it is also the first volume of the new “Penguin History of the United States” series and is therefore ostensibly supposed to provide readers of that series the colonial history of the United States up to the American Revolution. Unfortunately, the goals of these two books are not really compatible; in trying to write both books, Taylor has failed to write either of them as well as he could have. He acknowledges the problem in his introduction, writing that his goal of providing a North American perspective “… is somewhat at odds with the mandate for this volume, as the first in a series meant to cover the history of the United States down to the present.”

    I think Taylor’s conception of colonial history is refreshing, interesting, and informative. I also think he gives well-deserved attention to groups of people and topics that traditional books on the subject have ignored, especially Native Americans and African-Americans and the impact of human settlements on the environment. Taken by itself, I think his book is very good and deserves the positive comments and reviews it has gotten (both in the press and in Amazon reviews). In fact, if it was intended as a stand-alone book about the colonization process itself and its impact on the peoples and environments of North America, I would have given it 4 stars after subtracting 1 star for extraneous historical material (in chapters 13, 15, and 18) that really doesn’t fit Taylor’s colonization paradigm.

    However, I feel it important to also evaluate “American Colonies” as the first volume of the new “Penguin History of the United States”. Since Penguin’s website indicates that the second volume will focus on the years 1763 to 1848, it is clear that readers will not be getting more details about colonial U.S. history prior to 1763. Viewed in this context, I feel that Taylor has left out too much detail from traditional U.S. colonial history in order to give space to the non-traditional topics he has covered. One obvious example is the fact that Taylor only gives the settlement of Plymouth by the Mayflower 1 paragraph. Additionally, Taylor says very little about the founding of the Connecticut and Rhode Island colonies. Another problem with the book when viewed as a first volume of a U.S. history series is that much of the material is just not that relevant. While Taylor’s accounts of the colonizations of Mexico, the Southwest, Alaska, and Hawaii are interesting and do belong in a study of North American colonization, they don’t really have much bearing on U.S. history. Taylor’s attempt to write two books in one is what lead to these problems and my 3 star rating.

    What I’m trying to say here is that a reader who wanted to learn U.S. History from the Penguin series without having to read other books would not get an adequate overview of the colonial history of the United States. While Taylor has written a good book, he has not fulfilled his obligations to readers of the Penguin series who will expect full coverage of all key events in U.S. history. In fairness to Penguin, I should point out that the new Oxford History of the United States does not cover colonial history at all and has other gaps such as the critical years between the ratification of the Constitution in 1789 and 1815.

    Postscript: Oxford is adding a new volume by famous historian Gordon S. Wood that covers 1789 – 1815, filling in the gap I had mentioned. It will be available in October, 2009.

  • nedendir
    11:14 on November 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    This book represents current historical thought and writing at its best. Taylor has done what few historians today can accomplish. He has taken all of the areas that specialists now delve into and pieced them together into a coherent overview. This is a picture of colonial America from the perspective of Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards, and Native Americans. The writing is excellent, the thoughts of the writer are clearly conveyed and easy to grasp. Every reader will come away from this book having learned something about colonial America. Most will come away having learned a great deal… And they will have enjoyed doing it. Could not recommend it higher.

  • Analyzethis
    22:42 on November 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    This book was recommended to me by a colleague and after reading it I would say that every US History teacher should have a copy in their classroom. The author takes the reader from the early arrivals of the Asians following the wolly mammoths to the the mid 1700′s. A great book and great job by Amazon again.

  • PaulTheZombie
    23:51 on November 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    This book is excellent; the only book on colonial history you will ever need (although after reading it, you may be inspired to dig deeper). I wish more historians could write like Talyor. Only one small complaint — I wish there had been more detailed maps.

  • Ripel
    1:44 on November 2nd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    More than any other history book I have read this book confirms Edward Gibbon’s dictum that history is “little more than the register of crimes, follies, ad misfortunes of mankind. It is a history of the Americas starting with pre-Columbian times and continuing until about the time of the American Revolution. While I am hardly an expert, the author is very familiar with the literature on his topic. His opinions seem well reasoned to me and are consistent with what I do know independent of this book.

    The overwhelming impression of this book is just how nasty brutish and short life was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in both Europe and the Americans. How badly the Native Americans were treated is common knowledge. But the desperation behind the greed and cruelty of the Europeans is less well known. Most of the people who came to the “new world” were driven by poverty to risk all with the odds against them. It is hard to believe that anything as wonderful as the United States could have had such terrible beginnings.

    The worst thing the Europeans did was done accidentally. Europeans brought diseases with them and infected the Native Americans. The author cites new research and studies by anthropologists that suggest that in the century after Columbus the native population of about 50 million shrank by 90%. This is more than anything else what made the cruel conquest possible. And the author says that the English learned how to treat the Indians by their conquest of Ireland. Until the Nazis unleashed the holocaust, history may have known horrors equal to the conquest of Ireland, but nothing worse.

    The Europeans were little better to each other. In an early settlement on the Chesapeake one man who stole some oats had a rod thrust through his tongue and then he was chained to a tree to die from starvation. This shows how close to the edge of starvation the colony must have been to resort to such drastic actions.

    Most people who emigrated from England were bound to four years service before they got their freedom. Not many lived long enough to gain it. Fewer still became rich. But there were more impoverished laborers in England to replace them. And there were the horrors of slavery-mostly black African, since Indians died too quickly.

    The only decent story is that of William Penn and the Quakers. Under his guidance they dealt fairly with the Indians near them and paid a fair price for their land, of which they had plenty to sell due to smallpox. In Barbados one Quaker was killed and the rest expelled for having the temerity to teach black African slaves the Christian gospel-and this at a time when almost everyone believed Christian faith was the only escape from eternal damnation. But the plantation owners did not want to have to deal with Christian slaves-they might feel they had to treat them better. French Jesuits and Spanish Franciscans also tried to convert the Indians, but with little success.

    If you want to know the early history of the Americas this book is the place to start. But the story has few bright parts. It is story of greed and death. Try to have compassion for the invaders. Their plight was little better than that of the conquered.

  • TrafficWarden
    2:08 on November 2nd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    This is a good history of the American Colonies, but it’s so biased I want to tear my hair out when I’m reading it! He passes off his biased opinions against Christianity as fact, which, as a Christian, annoys me to death!!! He’ll just classify Christians as being stupid imbeciles who wanted to kill everyone. Does he give a source for his “facts” about such things? No. Last time I heard, there weren’t any historians who could read the minds of people who lived 350 years ago. THIS IS THE MOST LEFTIST AND LIBERAL HISTORY I HAVE EVER READ. Histories especially should be NON BIASED and written in a dispassionate tone, which American Colonies by Alan Taylor is quite passionate about trash talking Christians. Perhaps Alan Taylor should ask Jackson J. Spielvogel for advice on writing historical works.

  • Jim Levitt
    7:53 on November 2nd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    One of the better histories I have had the pleasure to read, Alan Taylor, instead of focusing on the AngloBritish derivation of America, provides a pre history that delivers the many cultural influences that gave birth to America.

    From the early Indian migrations into North America fifteen thousand years ago, through the European colonization of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, to the late eighteenth century exploration of Hawaii, Taylor widens the funnel that delivered America. It is at once an economic, social and cultural history that redefines our economic and political history and in the process reexamines North American colonization.

    Instead of focusing on Boston Yankees and Virginia planters banding together to throw off their colonial status, the palette is enhanced to include our Spanish, Dutch, French and Russian heritage. Above all, Taylor restores the Native Americans to the story, because without their cooperation, support and contributions, the formation and reshaping of the new way of living we call America would never have occurred.

    This is a remarkably well researched, exceedingly well written, good work.

  • eliteuser
    13:54 on November 2nd, 2011
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    On first glance it might appear odd that Alan Taylor should be one of our leading historians of the revolutionary era. Taylor’s two previous works were about the Maine frontier and the life of James Fenimore Cooper’s father. What, ask the skeptical, of interest has ever happened in Maine? And Cooper is easily the writer that even conservatives would most like to chuck out of the canon and replace with the Simpsons. But the readers of those two books were richly rewarded as Taylor produced complex, well documented narratives about the ironies and limitations of early American democracy. Taylor’s new book deals with the colonial era, the first volume of a the Penguin history of the United States, edited by Eric Foner. In one respect Taylor’s work is superior to any previous volume. His work does not deal solely with the 13 American colonies. Instead it deals with all the colonial powers and the aboriginal societies on what is now the current day United States. As well as the English and the Spanish, we also get the Dutch, the French and the Russians. Taylor covers Florida to New Mexico, and California to Oregon. Taylor discusses both Hawaii and Alaska, and because both had a major effect on the thirteen colonies, Quebec and the West Indies. Only Puerto Rico is excluded from Taylor’s wide canvas. One can only wonder whether future volumes will go into as much detail about the aboriginal population, the consequences of the Mexican war of independence, and the squalid farce of the “Hawaiian Republic.”

    Early on Taylor reminds us of the essential truth of the colonial era. Colonial America was not a virgin land, but a widowed land, not a land of freedom, but one of chains. Until 1776 two-thirds of the people who came to this hemisphere did so in chains. (After 1776 the ratio sharply changed to the benefit of freedom.) Untold tens of millions of the aboriginal inhabitants died after 1492, mostly from disease, but also from the vicious behavior from European colonists. Taylor is very good here, as he points out that this European cruelty was in the beginning at least, not so much “racist” as “Christian,” in origin. At the same time we can see its precedents in the Spanish conquest of the Azores and Canary Islands, the English conquest of Ireland, and Russian atrocities against Native Siberians. Taylor is very good on Indian (his term) society, and how they ranged from nomadic hunter gatherers to complex urban empires. He is also excellent on ecology, whether it is Indian land practises or why the population of the Western hemisphere was vulnerable to epidemic diseases. He notes that it is anachronistic to view them as environmentalists. But he also notes that whether in New England or California their activities produced complex and fertile ecosystems where the Europeans just saw anarchic wilderness, and which they promptly changed for the worse. At the same time he points out how many “tribes” encountered in later centuries where the combined remnants of many tribes shattered by plague and genocide, how Indians could use European markets and firearms to their own advantage while ultimately becoming dependant on them, and how horses increased the power of some tribes, while increasing tribal inequality and damaging their environment.

    There is another irony to the American success story, which Taylor also brings out. The rise of the yeoman republic, the key to early American democracy, was a historical accident. Most male immigrants from England were not very religious and most of them went to Virginia and the West Indies. Most British attention was concentrated on the cash crop colonies. But the small minority who went to relatively poor New England were able to earlier achieve a proper gender balance and then quickly start reproducing at a level unprecedented in Europe. The same thing happened in quasi-feudal Quebec, but at a lower level and ultimately too late to defeat British power. Another irony is that one reason why so many English and Scots went to find prosperity in America was because British capitalism was much more successful in depriving farmers of their property than feudal France.

    Taylor has provided a superb synthesis of the existing literature. Given the chronological and geographic scope of his subject, Taylor’s work does not have the compelling thesis one finds in such histories as Gordon Craig on Germany, Christopher Hill on Britain or Denis Mack Smith on Italy. Indeed the last chapter, on the Pacific, is somewhat anti-climactic. Taylor is not the most compelling of writers, though there is some black humor when he quotes the rationalizations of Milford, Connecticut in its demands for more Indian land: “Voted that the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; voted, that the earth is given to the Saints; voted we are the Saints.” And those who don’t like Cotton Mather will be grimly unsuprised to learn that this callous Divine wrenched off the jawbone of Metacom (the King Philip of King Philip’s war) when the latter’s skull lay on display, and then went on to debate whether Metacom’s 9 year old son should be executed. (They sold him into slavery instead.) Only six and a half pages are devoted to setting the stage for the American revolution, so we do not get as much on the roots of American democracy as one might like. And his discussion of the Great Awakening does not fully confront Jon Butler’s coldly unsentimental critique of it. Taylor does make one factual error: Spinoza did not emigrate to the Netherlands as a response to its wonderful tolerance; he was born there and would in fact encounter the limits of Dutch liberty. But otherwise this is a wonderful textbook that sets the standard for contemporary scholarship.

  • Analyzethis
    1:22 on November 3rd, 2011
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    …something much broader, deeper, richer, and ultimately much more satisfying. Histories of colonial North America usually have as their starting points the arrival of the British and end with the American Revolution. Not so here. Taylor’s scope is broad enough to include the history of early Native Americans, not just at the time of discovery, but hundreds of years earlier. Even more interestingly this view is not limited to the Native Americans in what would eventually become the US, but looks at those living throughout North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

    The richness of this history comes by way of the various cultures that are included. From the perspective of the East coast of the continent, the story of colonialism involves the British and the Native Americans. When the view extends North to Canada then we include the French. What Taylor does is show the perspective from all angles, and this means that Spanish and Dutch influences were also important, the former especially so in the West.

    Chapters on the history of different regions rather than single countries or islands highlights the fact that there were diverse influences which oftentimes overlapped and interacted. There are chapters on the Carolinas, the West Indies, New England, the Pacific Coast and Chesapeake region. Certainly not left out of this analysis is the huge role Africa and its sons and daughters played in the settlement of our continent.

    This is the first Volume in the Penguin History of the United States. It seems ironic then that the books main argument is that the colonization, settlement and growth of the AMERICAN COLONIES was a process in which the eventual emergence of the US was only a very dim vision on the far horizon. The book is well written, thoroughly researched and deeply insightful. Although it is colonial history, its tale as told here has as much resonance and meaning for us today as it must have had in living it.

  • PaulTheZombie
    2:31 on November 3rd, 2011
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    This is one of the few books I thought worthy of packing to Afghanistan for reading during my deployment.

    “American Colonies” strikes me as a balanced and well-researched overview of the colonial experience, whether English, French or Spanish. Alan Taylor paints our colonial history warts and all, which might not appeal to some readers; however, he does not descend into hyperbole. His narrative spans virtually all of the colonial establishments of North America, including the West Indies and the Russian efforts in the Pacific Northwest.

    I maintain that the work is balanced because the author supports his contentions with a bibliography full of original sources, and he treats the indigenous peoples with the same unblushing honesty that he does the Europeans (if not at such length; the European colonies are the focus, after all). Mr. Taylor addresses the drastic over-harvesting of beaver by the Montagnais, the Five Nations’ virtual obliteration of the Hurons and other neighboring groups, the slave-raiding the Chickasaw practiced against the Choctaw, and the profit-motivated slave-taking which the ‘Creek’, Yamasee, Cherokee, ‘Westo’, Savannah and Catawba cheerfully inflicted upon the Guale, Timucua, Apalachee, Tuscarora and others.

    All nations, all peoples have elements in their history which are not particularly flattering. Wise people admit and recognize those incidents, consider and judge them in the light of contemporary attitudes and historical imperatives, and draw appropriate conclusions. With “American Colonies”, Alan Taylor has made it possible for us to do those things.

    Highly recommended. Most people will learn a great deal from this book. If his more unpleasant revelations prompt one to further research, so much the better.

  • Jolynn Ordona
    6:57 on November 3rd, 2011
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    What an excellent book! There are two huge and largely unnoticed gaps in conventional colonial histories; what happened between Christopher Columbus and Jamestown, and then again from the Mayflower to the French and Indian War. Alan Taylor fills in the gaps, including not only the traditional 13 colonies that became the United States, but covering the Spanish and French colonial efforts which preceded and were concurrent with the British efforts in the hemisphere. He does an admirable job of including the Native Americans and their crucial role in colonial developments. Taylor’s method of writing by region, rather than chronologically across all colonies at once, creates a comprehensive picture of each colonial area and sets the stage for the other players. He even includes colonization in the Pacific, right through 1820 with Hawaii and King Kamehameha. Like many Americans, as far as I knew the colonial period ended in 1776, not in 1820. I enjoyed reading it; it was informative without being heavy with lots of scholarly jargon. If you want to know what went on before the Revolution, this book is a great place to start.

  • TrafficWarden
    7:21 on November 3rd, 2011
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    I read this book because I was looking for a brief introduction to the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary period and its aftermath, including the drafting of the Constitution. To that extent, the book was very successful in giving a comprehensive overview of these topics.

    The book is divided into three main chapters (excluding the short, somewhat introductory Chapter 1) which deal with the historical context of the time period, the achievements of the Founding Fathers, and the legacy of their achievements, respectively. In such a short book, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect too much detail about any given topic, so it is certainly no criticism to say that the book paints the events and people of the 18th and 19th centuries in mostly broad strokes, with the occasional personal anecdote to help illustrate certain aspects of a Founding Father’s personality, political beliefs, etc. In fact, I enjoyed the brevity of the work, as opposed to an in-depth textbook type of approach. This book is very well-written and accessible.

    Overall the book is a very refined, concise, and informative look at the Founding Fathers and their work. However, it seems worth noting that the book deals much more with their work than with the individual men themselves. This is fine, since it’s not meant to be a biography of each man, but don’t expect a detailed portrait of each Founding Father’s life and thoughts.

    The book also focuses on how posterity should view these men. Are they patriotic gods who deserve unquestioning respect? Are they petty, quarrelsome men who were looking out for their own interests? Both lines of thought have found their hold in modern historical scholarship, but Bernstein’s book seems to encourage a more realistic approach — one that involves the understanding that these men were fallible and may not have created the most perfect Constitution possible, but at the same time really were concerned not only with the fate of the early Republic but with the fate of future generations as well. After reading the book, I have a much more grounded understanding (and appreciation) for these men than I did before.

    Only two things really stand out to me as disappointments: the first is simply that not enough time was spent on the issue of church and state. Compared to the other sections in the relevant chapter (Federalism, Politics, etc.), this section was much shorter. However, I have to admit that my disappointment in the short treatment on the subject stems more from my own interest in this topic than anything else.

    The other disappointment I had comes in the final paragraph of the Epilogue, in which the author refers to the Talmud as a “great work of religion and law” and quotes from it. First of all, just in terms of the writing itself, the book would have ended beautifully without this paragraph. It seems extraneous at best. Second of all, I was very turned off by the appeal to a religious text in order to emphasize the importance of perfecting the work of the Founding Fathers. Throughout the book the author seems to take pains to avoid much discussion of religion (as noted in my first complaint), or at least to avoid showing any bias in the religion-related topics. I appreciated that, but then felt let down by the reference to the Talmud in the end.

  • John Baxter
    10:16 on November 3rd, 2011
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    Given the alarming facts that many high school/college students in the U. S. graduate with a paucity of knowledge regarding U. S. American history/civics/government, Bernstein’s examination of the founding fathers in conjunction with their milieu is a public service, especially since he masterfully accomplishes his rhetorical goals in the space of 176 pages. Many of us in scholarly circles weed through voluminous texts to obtain background on our topics of interest and discover that these texts could have been written with half of the words. History needs to be revisited in ways that contemporary readers/scholars find more accessible. I suggest that more scholars follow his examples of contextualization with brevity and relevance to today’s topics.

  • nedendir
    11:42 on November 3rd, 2011
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    Taylor provides an extensive – 526 pages including bibliography and index – overview of European colonial initiatives in the Atlantic, North America and parts of the Caribbean from the early 1400s – when Portuguese and Spanish proto-colonists got their feet wet, so to speak, by colonizing the Azores, Canaries and Medeiras – through Spanish and Russian efforts on the West Coast in the early 1800s. Substantial space is given to colonial efforts of the French, Dutch, and Spanish as well as English settlement in the eastern Caribbean and the east coast of what eventually became the United States.

    A tragic theme throughout the book is the encounter between Europeans and Native Americans that decimated the latter, primarily through inadvertent introduction of diseases but also through warfare, slavery, appropriation of their land and destruction of the environment on which the Indians relied. Taylor also describes how the Indians repeatedly collaborated with or benefited from European traders and colonists when they perceived – often erroneously – that the Europeans’ actions benefited their own economic and strategic interests. And, yes, the Indians traded in slaves – either other Indians or Africans – as well. The role and some of the impact of enslaved Africans on Colonial development is also described throughout the book.

    Regarding the English colonies that became the original thirteen United States it’s helpful for Taylor to remind that most of the colonies had unique beginnings that influenced their cultures and economies and politics for many years after the American revolution. For example, South Carolina essentially began as a colony of the fabulously wealthy colony of Barbados, and initiated use of enslaved Africans on a scale that dwarfed the Chesapeake tobacco plantations. And Pennsylvania started relatively late but grew quickly and prosperously as the initial English Quakers were quickly outnumbered by industrious German family farmers as opposed to indentures servants or slaves.

    I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Euro-American settlement, the formative history of the United States and the interaction of Europeans with Native Americans.

  • cjinsd
    18:17 on November 3rd, 2011
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    This book gives us the information we never received in middle school. The history of the United States did not begin at Plymouth. It began in 1492 and there was a lot happening in the West Indies, Florida, The Carolinas, The Chesapeake, between then and 1750.

    Of special interest was the interdependence of the Indians and colonists regarding trade. Also, the plantation mentality of the Carolinas versus the small farmer of New England and Pennsylvania – very important differences.

  • PaulTheZombie
    19:26 on November 3rd, 2011
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    We hear so much about the “Founding Fathers” so it’s really good to learn more about what they were thinking and what influenced their decisions ‘way back then. It makes our thought processes and difficulties in decision making more relevant.

  • pop frame
    22:17 on November 3rd, 2011
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    Many American history books fall into one or more of three traps: Beginning American history with Columbus in 1492, acting as if the United States was destined for independence from the beginning and limiting colonial history to English influences on the Eastern Seaboard.

    This book does not fall into any of these traps. Author Alan Taylor specifically set out to avoid them.

    The book begins with the first Americans’ migration from Siberia into Alaska and ends with U.S. control of the Hawaiian Islands in 1898. Taylor also includes the Caribbean islands in his colonial history. As he points out, for much of the period before U.S. independence, the West Indies were more important to the British Crown than the mainland colonies. And settlement of the islands affected settlement on the mainland. They traded with each other and the mainland was a safety valve for the crowded islands.

    Ironically, the future land of the free was populated by many slaves. The conquering powers — British, French, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish — enslaved and killed the native population in one of the greatest genocides in history. Since the Native Americans died too quickly to get much forced labor from them, indentured servants came over from Europe. If they made it through five years — rather unlikely — they would be free. Soon, desperation for labor brought African slaves.

    Taylor explains the push-pull nature of much of this migration. Some came because they were dragged in chains and some came because they were starving in their old homes. The dangers of the Americas gave rise to a different class system in the New World. Color mattered more than class. The whites were forced to band together against real and perceived fears of non-whites. They also played Native American and blacks against each other. Europeans also made Native American alliances to gain advantage over their rivals.

    The continued clearing and claiming of the land by Euro-Americans dispersed Native Americans. Tribes reformed and new trade patterns sprang up. Some of the most useful portions of the book explain the impact on the lives of the Plains Indians, who were not generally in direct contact with the seaboard colonies. The book is also discusses colonies in the American Southwest and the Russian colonial effort, which are too often ignored by historians.

    In most respects, the book is a worthy read. If not for some flaws, I would have given it another star. It suffers from lack of footnotes/endnotes. The book ends abruptly with Hawaiian King Kamehameha’s death in 1819, then references American dominance of the islands in 1898. Some bridge needs to be made here. While reasonably well-written, the writing lacks sparkle and is rather pedestrian.

    That said, “American Colonies” is a well-rounded introduction to colonial history and would be a good American history textbook.

  • TrafficWarden
    22:41 on November 3rd, 2011
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    This was a book that was used for a class titled, “Colonial History.” It was a textbook. However, it wasn’t written like a textbook. It was written like a novel. Which meant that it held my attention (mostly) and provided information that I did not know before. I got a B in the class but that was because of another book that I could NOT read.

    If you are reading this for fun, I think you will like it.

    If you are a student, don’t dread it. It’s really pretty good.

    If you are an instructor, please use this book. Much better than most!

  • John Baxter
    1:36 on November 4th, 2011
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    This extensive history of the colonization of the North American continent paints with a broad sweeping brush clearly delineating the major influences while bringing meaningful detail. The effects of the political events in Europe and their consequences on the NA continent are woven to make the unfolding of history exciting and cogent.
    The prose is a beautiful weaving of precision and colorful wording. An excellent presentation of a complex period of our history that is usually neglected.

  • Karla Shelton
    6:58 on November 4th, 2011
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    Many reviewers have commented that Taylor’s “American Colonies” gives indigenous peoples a larger role in North American history than most previous studies do. This perspective is relevant to the interpretation of the American Revolution.

    Among the Revolution’s motives were “liberty” (a better form of government than that provided by London) and “empire” (eliminating British barriers to the colonies’ territorial expansion). Since the indigenous people were the ones most affected by the colonists’ territorial expansion, giving them a larger role in the history, as Taylor does, makes the history read more in the “imperial” vein. See chapter 18, “Imperial Wars and Crisis: 1739-75.”

    In an important way, the “liberty” and “empire” motives both came down to land. The colonists knew that a key reason they were freer than the average Briton was that they could move into land acquired from the indigenous peoples. Jefferson summed up their objective as “an empire of liberty,” which Taylor uses as chapter 18′s final section heading.

  • Satish KC
    11:38 on November 4th, 2011
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    Professor Taylor’s attitude is revealed in the first paragraph of his introduction:

    “Until the 1960′s, most American historians assumed that ‘the colonists’ meant English-speaking men confined to the Atlantic seaboard. Women were there as passive and inconsequential helpmates. Indians were wild and primitive peoples beyond the pale: unchanging objects of colonists’ fears and aggressions. African slaves appeared as unfortunate aberrations in a fundamentally upbeat story of Englishmen becoming freer and more prosperous by colonizing an open land.”

    This is a slur on the generations of historians that preceded Taylor, a symptom of his belief, common to “baby-boomers”, that the world began when he stepped on the stage. Fashions change in history as in any other human endeavor – the current fashion is “social” and “cultural” history and “political correctness” – and Taylor’s history fits right into that mold. Of course, no historian can be truly objective – we are all creatures of the attitudes of our times, with limited knowledge. But good historians TRY to be objective as they tell their story, an effort Taylor chooses not to make. Instead, he subtly and at times not so subtly weaves a narrative of European iniquity and Native American innocence.

    One more quotation, from the conclusion to his book, will suffice to illustrate this point:

    “By contrast, the British and especially their spawn the Americans dedicated their governments to promoting commerce.”

    Of all the possible words he could have chosen – “progeny”, “offspring”, “descendants”, etc. – why use the pejorative word “spawn”? It doesn’t seem to occur to him that his very ability to practice his profession is completely dependent on the culture of freedom those despised “spawn” of the British created. And he obviously thinks “commerce”, the life-blood of American prosperity, is an unworthy activity.

    His blatant partisanship detracts from what is otherwise a fascinating story, that of North America before 1776. Like Howard Zinn’sPeople’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (P.S.), Taylor’s history is factual – he doesn’t make things up – but like Zinn he emphasizes the part of the story that supports his own beliefs.

    He reports that the American Indians indeed modified their environment, quite drastically at times, using that most primitive and yet most powerful of prehistoric tools, fire. He also notes aboriginal customs of torture, human sacrifice, ritualistic cannibalism. But here again, his bias intrudes: He reports Indian atrocities as mere “cultural phenomena”, while the British, French, and Spanish were “cold”, “cruel”, and “callous”. I wonder what adjectives the victims of Indian torture would have used to describe their tormentors?

    Taylor is a graduate of Colby College and Brandeis University, and in his acknowledgments mentions a relationship with Leon Wieseltier of “The New Republic”, so he comes by his political views honestly. Would that he had made the minimal effort required not to inflict those views on the readers of this book, which is after all intended to be part of an authoritative history of the United States.

    History is in many ways the story of man’s inhumanity to man, and there is little for Americans to be proud of in their dealings with the aboriginal inhabitants of North America. The European settlement of North America was a catastrophe for them. Taylor is a good writer (aside from his fascination with the words “diverse” and “diversity”) and an able historian, which is why I give it 3 stars instead of one. It is possible to learn lots of interesting history from this book, if you can look beyond Taylor’s supercilious moral posturing.

    A few of the good points of this work: It covers the ground in one volume, it reviews the explosion of research into the pre-Colonial era that has been done since Taylor’s birth in 1955, and the bibliography is excellent. For example, his description of the Louisiana French alliance with the Choctaw is quite interesting, and fills in some of the background for the events described in Mel Gibson’s fine movie The Patriot (Unrated Extended Cut).

    Some interesting historical works on the pre-Colonial era written before Taylor’s birth:

    William Prescott: History of the Conquest of Mexico & History of the Conquest of Peru
    Francis Parkman: Francis Parkman : France and England in North America : Vol. 1: Pioneers of France in the New World, The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, The Old Regime in Canada (Library of America)
    Bernard de Voto:The Course of Empire

    Taylor would call these works “dated”, “one-sided”, and “ignorant of modern cultural and archaeological findings”, criticisms with some truth to them. But they have the great virtue of leaving out Taylor’s guilt-trip and political agenda.

    epops

  • webdiva
    21:09 on November 4th, 2011
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    I expected something different from the title, “American Colonies” and from a quick scan of the table of contents. From this, I anticipated the standard, stock account of the settlement of North America. In buying this book, I hoped to find a history written with deep political, economic, and military insights, as one might find in other histories dealing with this time. Having finished the book, I am pleasently surprised that it did not meet my expectations.

    “American Colonies” is written more from an anthropological standpoint than from a more traditonal perspective. The result is that “American Colonies” provides a general account of the American colonial ordeal that makes it a good balance to other histories and other viewpoints. It is a useful and versatile book and a good addition to one’s bookshelf.

    Although his historic and geographic scope is broad – he covers just about every aspect of colonial history of North America (he really glosses over the Vikings), the scale of the research and point of view is limited. Through the bibliography, it appears that Taylor focuses on recent scholarship for his book, citing works predominantly written in the past thirty years. This is not to say of course that “American Colonies” suffers from this narrow approach; it doesn’t, of course, but it does explain the somewhat narrow focus at times in the author’s ability to address other topics in depth.

    Therefore, I wouldn’t make this book your seminal work if you had to name a single book to read on the subject. It is most effective if it is taken into account with other works on the period, the book’s mostly enthnocentric, cultural/societal, antrhopological perspectives provide a nice complement to other histories, giving a more complete treatment of a complex era – the tail end of the age of exploration and beginning of the the colonial period – in world history.

    With comments about the limited depth of the book’s focus already stated, “American Colonies” does provide a good overview and breakdown of the historical elements and issues that, in part, shaped the future of the continent. What is particularly nice about Taylor’s book is that he takes seemingly disparite events in North American history – the conquest of New Mexico, the settlement of the eastern seaboard, and the travails of the French along the St. Lawrence, for example – and puts them in one book. The chapters, as others have mentioned in their reviews, are relatively short and the writing style is definitely readable.

    Despite its utility and versatile, “American Colonies” is not without flaws. Although the author is an acknowledged and lauded expert on the period, the bibliography is weak and not authoritative, thereby limiting its value. The maps are a little wanting; they have little detail and are of little help.

  • Ripel
    23:02 on November 4th, 2011
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    This is a great book with a comprehensive scope about the settlement of America. What sets it apart from any other text is it’s scope and approach. Instead of treating American history as a white anglo saxon story Taylor shows us the full range of human experience on the whole North American continent. While his focus is primarily on what would become the continental US he doesn’t neglect Mexico or Canada. He also disrupts the traditional storyline of Anglo Saxon landings on the west caost and progressive advance inward into an “empty continent”. Taylor shows us not only the Amerindians who were living in the American continent but the Spanish and MExicans in much of the American west, the French fur traders in the interior and the Russian settlements in the northeast. This is a great book for anyone wanting an overivew of American settlements.

  • Markoc
    1:29 on November 5th, 2011
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    Most books on US history begin with the 1763 Treaty Of Paris, which concludes what we call the French and Indian War against the British Colonial Empire in North America. Alan Taylor’s book, The American Colonies, backfills the story, even including a chapter on the first immigrants, the Paleo-Indians, who settled the Americas long before the Europeans discovered the New Continent.

    The Europeans didn’t have the advantage of walking over the Bering Strait, or even taking a canoe over the the small strait that formed when the Ice Age receeded and the ocean waters rose. The three waves of migrants from Siberia had these advantages, as well as years and years of living as the first settlers of America, However, civilization proved to be an overwhelming advantage for the Europeans, particulary their horses and armaments.

    The four powers to colonize America – whose settlements are detailed in this book – were the Spanish, French, Dutch, and English. All four were naval powers, and, in fact, the only naval power not to settle America, the Portugese, settled South America – leaving the rest to Spain by treaty. It is no great surprise that the English eventually dominated the New World, much as they dominated the Old World after the 1700s.

    Taylor’s story details all of the great colonial efforts of these European naval powers, and also tells the story of the native settlers, fairly even-handedly, it seems. Perhaps the Native Tribes would disagree, but they also have a dog in the fight. Much of the story focuses on the relationship between the Europeans and the first settlers, as it should.

    His story is fairly complete, and altogether interesting, revealing the birth of a country that ultimately became a world superpower.

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