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American Colonies: The Settling of North America (The Penguin History of the United States, Volume1) [Paperback]

Alan Taylor
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 29 2003 Hist of the USA (Book 1)
With this volume, Alan Taylor challenges the traditional story of colonial history by examining the many cultures that helped make America. Transcending the usual Anglocentric version of our colonial past, he recovers the importance of Native American tribes, African slaves, and the rival empires of France, Spain, the Netherlands, and even Russia in the colonization of North America. Moving beyond the Atlantic seaboard to examine the entire continent, American Colonies reveals a pivotal period in the global interaction of peoples, cultures, plants, animals, and microbes. In a vivid narrative, Taylor draws upon cutting-edge scholarship to create a timely picture of the colonial world characterized by an interplay of freedom and slavery, opportunity and loss.

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American Colonies: The Settling of North America (The Penguin History of the United States, Volume1) + The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

First in Viking's new five-volume series the Penguin History of the United States, edited by noted Columbia historian Eric Foner (Reconstruction), this book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Taylor (William Cooper's Town) challenges traditional Anglocentric interpretations of colonial history by focusing more evenly on the myriad influences on North America's development. Beginning with the Siberian migrations across the Bering Straits 15 millennia ago, Taylor lays out the complicated road map of ownership, occupation and competition involving the Native Americans, African slaves and Spanish, Dutch, French and English colonists. He covers settlement and conquest from Canada to Mexico, and from the West Indies and mainland colonies to the Pacific islands. "The colonial intermingling of peoples and of microbes, plants, and animals from different continents was unparalleled in speed and volume in global history," he writes. Taylor delves deeply into topics given scant mention in most histories: the crucial role of the West Indies in the 17th-century economy and the particular brand of brutality that supported it; cultural disparities among the many Native peoples that influenced their mutually dependent relations with the various colonizers. An extensive, chapter-by-chapter bibliography lists further reading. Even the serious student of history will find a great deal of previously obscure information, for instance that in the 18th century the Russian fur traders went much farther on North America's Pacific Coast than the explorers sent by the Russian crown. The book offers a balanced understanding of the diverse peoples and forces that converged on this continent early on and influenced the course of American history. Illus. (Nov. 12)Forecast: This bold new view of early America should be widely and well reviewed, and will attract a broad range of students of American history.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In this first book in the "Penguin History of the United States" series, Taylor (history, Univ. of California, Davis; William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic) examines American colonial history from a wide-ranging perspective. Instead of offering the traditional story of the English colonies and "American exceptionalism," Taylor examines the complex mix of peoples, events, and influences that shaped the New World. He notes that the intermingling of cultures, people, plants, and animals from different parts of the world was unparalleled in speed and volume and had devastating consequences for the environment and most of the participants. Only a very select few prospered during the 17th and 18th centuries, a period in which North America actually lost population owing to diseases, wars, and early deaths. He vividly describes the harsh realities of colonial life and examines the important roles played by French, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and English colonists as well as Native Americans and African slaves. Well written and documented, this is recommended for academic and large public libraries. Robert Flatley, Frostburg State Univ., MD
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, Broad and Excellent March 26 2004
Alan Taylor has written a very thorough history of the peopling of the American continent that clearly takes its inspiration from Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel."
The human and demographic needs which controlled the pace and flow of early migration to North America as well as preordained the outcome of the clash between European and Indian cultures is the backbone of this impressive book. Although political decisions and the ambitions of kings as well as intrepid adventurers started the age of exploration, it was clearly economics which governed the establishment and success of colonies and determined whether or not landings and forts could attract sufficient settlers to become colonies as opposed to remaining lonely outposts garrisoned by impressed soldiers and agents of mercantilists. (This is not to belittle the role of imperial competition and advantage in colonial expansion, but those goals were either in pursuit of wealth or in response to the Spanish, who got started first and reaped an empire-enhancing wealth transfer early on -- one of such dimensions that the competitors had to respond).
Different policies played a role in the success or failure of colonial adventures. The Spanish combined Catholic mission with regard to conversion of Indians with sheer terror to support their efforts. The French, possessed of cold lands productive in animal furs but not in the kind of agriculture that could support large numbers of French transplants, had to rely on alliance and diplomacy with local natives to maintain their presence. Both of these kingdoms governed their colonies directly from the crown, which allowed for uniformity of control as well as mistakes.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Multi-faceted colonial history Dec 30 2003
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.
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If you're interested in a brief overview of American colonial history, you will arguably not find a better book than Alan Taylor's American Colonies. This work will give you a succinct history, and it provides just the right amount of explanations when needed for the reader who is unfamiliar with the topic to be able to understand the events as they unfold. Overall, it is a great introduction to the topic. It is also excellent as a refresher for the serious student of history or history buff. Taylor did a masterful job of taking such a big story and whittling it down to its essentials in just a little under 500 pages. This book is well written, and it flows in a manner that will keep you interested as the story of American colonization unfolds. My only gripe with this work is that Taylor occasionally leans a bit too heavily toward the interpretation that the Christianized Europeans were the "bad guy" invaders and that they really did an evil thing to the Indian population by trying to subvert Indian culture with European ideology and religion. This is arguably true in many instances; however, Taylor makes no distinction between 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th century political Christianity and biblical Christianity. We in our 21st century secular world often fail to realize that during the time of colonization there was no separation of religion and state in European nations (just as their isn't any separation today in middle-eastern countries for example). As the student of western history knows, religious affiliation went hand in hand with the politics of the day. As a result of Taylor's interpretations, this work will leave the reader more often than not with a negative view of the European colonizers. However, if it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be living in the greatest nation in the world.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
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. Read more
Published on June 29 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars very good
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). Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars very readable
Good synthesis of the colonization of America, including the SW & Pacific NW. Excellent prose. My only complaint is the very abrupt ending, with no conclusion.
Published on Jan. 8 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable, versatile, and useful history of early America
I expected something different from the title, "American Colonies" and from a quick scan of the table of contents. Read more
Published on July 15 2003 by W. Young
5.0 out of 5 stars A most interesting history of colonial North America
Everyone else has already said it- this is an absolutely excellent history of colonial North America. Read more
Published on May 22 2003 by L. Nolan
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb account of the colonisation of the Americas
Alan Taylor's "American Colonies" is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the complex mosaic that makes up the Americas, and especially the North Americas,... Read more
Published on March 22 2003 by Velile
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST read for Ethnocentrics & those interested in America
Alan Taylor has painted for the reader, in his book American Colonies, a fantastic picture of the early years of the entire North American continent. Read more
Published on Dec 8 2002 by Eric Hobart
5.0 out of 5 stars hard to put down
This is a great book. I have a 2 year old and have to read in short bursts late at night before I fall asleep. Many nights I read far into the night. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2002 by Nina
5.0 out of 5 stars American Colonies
While living up to its unpretentious name, American Colonies is perhaps one of the most important works in eighteenth century studies to appear in many years. Read more
Published on Aug. 24 2002 by J. Lindner
5.0 out of 5 stars Gibbon was Right
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. Read more
Published on May 22 2002 by Charles Vekert
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