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American Colonies: The Settling of North America (The Penguin History of the United States, Volume 1) Paperback – 30 Jul 2002

by Alan Taylor (Author) › Visit Amazon's Alan Taylor Page Find all the books, read about the author, and more. See search results for this author Alan Taylor (Author), Eric Foner (Series Editor) 186 customer reviews
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"Formidable...provokes us to contemplate the ways in which residents of North America have dealt with diversity." -The New York Times Book Review

"A superb overview of colonial America." -Christian Science Monitor

"Compelling, readable, and fresh, American Colonies is perhaps the most brilliant piece of synthesis in recent American historical writing." —Phillip J. Deloria, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate Professor of American Culture and History at the University of Michigan

“Even the serious student of history will find a great deal of previously obscure information. The book offers a balanced understanding of the diverse peoples and forces that converged on this continent and influenced the course of American history.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Crammed full of fascinating material uncovered by historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists in the past half-century.” Newsday

About the Author

Alan Taylor’s books include William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for history and the Bancroft Prize in American History; The Internal Enemy, also awarded the Pultizer Prize; The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution. Taylor holds the Thomas Jefferson Chair in American History at the University of Virginia.

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Most helpful customer reviews on 4.3 out of 5 stars 186 reviews Robert J. Crawford 5.0 out of 5 starsFatal encounters, brutal wars, and crass exploitation, along with missionaries and new masters 22 July 2018 - Published on Amazon.comVerified Purchase As comprehensive survey histories go, you can't do much better than this one. It combines detail, analysis, and succinct narratives into an absolutely wonderful reading experience. Best of all, even though I knew the outlines of the history quite well, I learned something on every page and felt enthralled for all 500 pages.

America was discovered at the very beginning of the modern age, during what we would call the Renaissance, though many of the explorers resembled medieval pillagers at best; Europe was also moving into the Reformation, of course, which played out in the Americas in its own brutal ways. The Europeans had limited experience dealing with culture clash and shock, so they presumed their superiority over the "savage pagans" and hence treated the natives as slaves and animals, though there were a few humanitarian exceptions.

The Spanish arrived looking for slaves and gold, bringing the first wave of microbes that would kill up to 98% of the native populations. Their idea was to extract as much wealth as possible, though a few of them began to establish ranches and farms. Interestingly, the template for the conquistadors were the Canary Islands, which they essentially devastated - killing virtually all the natives, destroying the entire natural ecology, and installing themselves as slave plantation owners.

About 100 years later, the British began to attempt to colonize what became Virginia. After several catastrophic failures and wars with the Spanish, they succeeded in establishing a crude colony, based on indentured labor for the price of passage and tobacco plantations; it was loosely Anglican. England at that time was in social upheaval, so many wished to depart with hopes of a better life. This soon changed when New England was established, which was largely Puritan though with many other strict protestant sects. While relatively autarkic economically, once the highly profitable sugar plantations were established in Barbados and its nearby islands, there was finally a market for New England goods, stimulating the economy for fish and other staples that the West Indies could not produce for itself. The sugar plantations also served as template for slave plantations in the deep south.

The French established trading posts in Canada, working more cooperatively with the Indians because of the sparseness of French immigration. Most of their trade was in furs, which the Indians supplied in exchange for guns and metal tools. There were also Dutch and Swedish colonies in the mid-Atlantic, soon to be absorbed into the British Empire, which continued its incipient war with the French until the 18C.

Each colony had its own character, such as Quaker Pennsylvania under the Penn family, a kind of family franchise that boomed for a number of decades and was surprisingly tolerant. Most fascinating to me was the establishment of Rhode Island, a tolerant oasis for religious experimentation, by Roger Williams when he was exiled from Massachusetts for religious ideas that bordered on fanaticism.

Throughout the volume, Taylor is very critical of the behavior of the colonists, who in spite of many sincere efforts to treat the natives with dignity and respect essentially wound up taking whatever they wanted. As a result, surviving east coast Indians were either pushed west or simply massacred. Many of the tribes that emerged were actually amalgams of disease survivors, hence relatively new, though larger groupings, such as the Iroquois nations, remained players for longer periods. Of course, there were exceptional adaptations as well: when the Plains Indians acquired guns and horses, they expanded their populations and became formidable adversaries as newly established warrior cultures, though could never effectively unite; they also remained dependent on white men for gun powder and metal working.

Taylor goes into many of the cultural details of all parties involved, particularly the various Indian tribes. This is very fun, but due to the format of a comprehensive survey is superficial at best. The bibliography is also outdated, given that the book was written about 20 years ago. If I have a serious criticism, it is the lack of a sum-up chapter at the end, bringing together the complex strands that Taylor describes so well.

This is an unusually fun read for a survey history. Taylor does a great job at pointing out the brutal underbelly of what transpired, no holds barred, but also in historical context of what the protagonists were thinking. Recommended warmly. 17 people found this helpful Gadget Man 5.0 out of 5 starsFascinating 6 June 2014 - Published on Amazon.comVerified Purchase This book presents a fascinating and detailed look at the settlement of the Americas. It covers the early Spanish and French explorers, the horrors committed by the Conquistadors, and an interesting perspective on the differences between the English colonists in Chesapeake (Virginia) and Massachusetts. Ever wonder why the Spanish colonized Central America, while the French operated in Canada, and the English colonized the Atlantic states? This book tells you. American Colonies also gives you a very detailed view of the history of the various Indian tribes both before and after the Europeans arrived. Until I read this book I never realized that Indians farmed corn and beans to such a great extent. Not only that, but the farming methods of the Indians on the Atlantic seaboard was far superior to the methods used by the early colonists. Much of the land used by the Massachusetts colonists for farming was first cleared by Indians who perished in astounding numbers by disease. The book also details the history of slavery in the Western Hemisphere, and describes why natives snared into slavery perished, and why slaves brought from Africa survived. If you enjoy reading about history of the Americas, this is a book you should read. Be mindful that its coverage goes way beyond the American colonies. It is really about the history of Central America, the Caribbean, the United States and Canada, focusing on the period between 1492 and 1820. 32 people found this helpful P. Sharma 5.0 out of 5 starsBest survey of early American History by far 16 September 2015 - Published on Amazon.comVerified Purchase Alan Taylor surveys the history of settling of North America from its earliest inhabitants (scholarship as of 2000, could use an update) to the formation of the United States in a very thoughtful, non-partisan manner. This work is full of fascinating details. For example, in its earliest forms in North America, slavery was not initially based on race but turned into racial chattel slavery in a very particular manner for a very particular reason. The Native Americans in California had a very sophisticated way of managing and shaping the "natural" environment. Taylor gives an excellent treatment of subjects that are not commonly treated in surveys, such as the differences between French, Spanish, and English settlements the causes and consequences of the Pueblo revolt, and how different Native American groups had cleverly managed to achieve a modicum of coexistence and balance with the colonial powers...until the Seven Years War, which then eventually led to the near total destruction of Native societies. 16 people found this helpful Kindle Customer 5.0 out of 5 starsthis book seemed to cover a huge amount of ground in reasonable depth primarily from the perspective of the affected natives while providing a good amount of information about the pressures that led to ... 5 August 2017 - Published on Amazon.comVerified Purchase I am not a historian, however, this book seemed to cover a huge amount of ground in reasonable depth primarily from the perspective of the affected natives while providing a good amount of information about the pressures that led to colonialism. 6 people found this helpful Go to to see all 186 reviews 4.3 out of 5 stars Back to top Get to Know Us Connect with Us Make Money with Us Let Us Help You
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