The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600–1675

Bernard Bailyn. Knopf, $35 (656p) ISBN 978-0-394-51570-0
This weighty book distills a lifetime of learning of one of our most authoritative historians of colonial America. Continuing his exploration of the demographic origins of the colonies (begun in The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction), Harvard professor emeritus Bailyn offers a history of the colonies built up of brilliant portraits of the people who interacted in these strange and fearsome lands. Much of it is the story of the costs, savagery, terrors, and conflicts that attended the establishment of European outposts in what became the U.S. This is not your school-book colonial history; there’s no Anglo-American triumphalism in its pages. Rather, Bailyn describes “confusion, failure, violence, and the loss of civility” and the extraordinary heterogeneity of the white and Indian populations. Only a historian as penetrating and stylish of pen as Bailyn could convince you that there was something important to say about the few Finns settling in the colonies. And the squeamish should be forewarned: the true barbarousness of people, European as well as Indian, and white against white, is appalling and shows how thin the veneer of civilization often is and was in the colonies’ early decades. An extraordinary work of profound seriousness, characteristic of its author. 25 illus., 12 maps. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/10/2012
Release date: 11/06/2012
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