on March 7, 2009
David Hackett Fischer is one of the best historians in the United States. His studies range from meticulously detailed appraisals of Federalists during the Jeffersonian era to appraisals of the patterns of economic growth. He also has retained an ability to write beyond academic circles, making history accessible to the public -- as in his book "Washington's Crossing."
Now, on the four hundreth anniversary of the founding of Nouvelle France, Fischer has produced the definitive biography of Samuel de Champlain. The historical field in many countries has fragmented into many sub-sectors, sometimes into highly esoteric areas. While this has allowed many explorations of social and cultural aspects of Canada's development, the sad reality is that contemporary Canadian historians have generally failed to present the 'big picture' and to explore the character of Canada's leaders and the development of its institutions. Instead, it took an American to write this story of Champlain's Vision.
The preceding does not take anything away from Fischer's accomplishment. This is a massive but marvellouslly-written biography, which makes Champlain's successes and failure understable. Champlain's life, his plans for Nouvelle France, the explorations, his time as governer, and the diplomatic efforts with Native Americans are carefully laid out. Remembering his audience, Fischer narrative flows, sometimes seeming like a grand novel.
Go to your nearest online bookstore and order. This is a good one and Canada is the beneficiary.
on December 12, 2008
In this incredible biography of one of Canada's founders, Samuel de Champlain, Pulitzer Prize winning author David Hackett Fischer produces yet another textual masterpiece. "Champlain's Dream" combines a stirring narrative with a dizzying array of historical sources which results in the rare kind of history book that will be read for many generations to come.
First off, Fischer's ability to put together source material into a coherent and compelling narrative is nothing short of brilliant. The book reads like a novel with Champlain as the central character. Yes, at times, you can sense a bit of Stockholm syndrome, hero worship, but the writing is so fluid and exciting that anyone can appreciate it regardless of its historiographical content.
Overall, I can see no reason why anyone would not want to purchase this book. It is a fantastic piece of writing, of history, of fantasy becomes reality. I think Fischer has another award-winning book on his hands, and he deserves it.
on September 4, 2010
A masterpiece, really.
David Hackett Fischer is definitely well-read about the colonial period and his subject, no doubt about it. In a bit more than 600 pages Fischer reveals his quest for Champlain's wisdom in bringing about the first European settlements into being in the North American wilderness. His writing is clear and precise, with some interesting insights into the problems faced by Indians-European relationship at that time. He grips his reader and doesn't let go.
The heroic life of Champlain and his remarkable work in founding "La Nouvelle France" put into contrast two models of development in North America. One based on exclusion and violence, a path far too often chosen by the first English, Spanish, and Dutch explorers and colonists. The other, Champlain's, implies a behaviour which aims actively at respect for others, natives and Europeans alike, according to Christian principles.
Such a vision upon which Champlain devoted his entire life shows a man far beyond compare. Coupled with his sense of reality shaped by decades of soldiery and leadership, Champlain was an empire-builder unlike so many others. His profound humility, disdain of violence, active rejection of abuse and exploitation along with other attributes such as soldier, geographer, ethnologist, diplomat, and chronicler made him the finest character. Someone that Canada should be proud of.
On a side note, I'd like to stress the point that Fischer's knowledge of French is really impressive. As a French native speaker I could only admire, eyes wide open, how competent Fischer (an American!) is in rendering his translation in modern English of the old French texts. Actually some English Canadian historians working on Canadian history should be inspired by the determination to give further qualitative content and meaning to their own work when reading Fischer's book - and rightly so.
on April 21, 2009
This body of work is the best-written and most interesting history of North America that I have ever read! When Canada presented the challenge of "the Greatest Canadian Ever" two years ago, I voted for Samuel de Champlain back then. But after reading this work, I feel so much more informed and have a greater respect for Champlain and the native tribes that he established a very friendly relationship with.
Champlain is illuminated as a fascinating person, patriot, Christian, navigator, explorer, trader, cartographer, botanist and most of all-leader and visionary. By Herculean perseverance-against all odds- he accomplished so much- his precise and detailed maps and the founding settlements of Canada in 1608, and all this with a humility that is unmatched in other great men of history.
This is my first acquaintance with anything written by American historian David Hackett-Fischer and, like other reviewers on this website, I am very pleased with the depth of research available to me in this history. Here is a prominent historian who not only presents a very clearly-defined thesis on the role of Samuel Champlain - one of Canada's most innovative and dynamic explorers - but, also, provides the evidence to defend it. Hackett-Fischer takes the many lesser known details of Champlain's remarkable life and turns them into a very enjoyable and readable biography that helps explain how and why he figured so significantly in the birth of Canada. Here are some features that a reader might be interested in checking out when reading this book:(1) to begin with, the curtains of history are effectively rolled back on the early life of Champlain as he grew up in the busy French port of Brouage during the French Religious Wars. During these formative years, we get to see the making of Champlain as a young man trained in the world of seamanship and navigation;(2) this is followed up by a period in which we see Champlain honing a range of personal interests and skills as he joined various expeditions to the New World in the late 16th century. The author stresses that from these early times Champlain was one very astute, self-taught individual who had a sense of adventure, and a resolve to see it through;(3) then comes that critical time when Champlain stepped out and proved to royalty that he was the man to head up the colonization of New France. This part of the story is filled with all kinds of challenges and intrigues that included his need to contend with nature, hostile natives, foreign powers, and political rivals. Champlain's ability to overcome these crisis attests to his deep commitment to making New France an effective colony;(4) a fourth part of this study is devoted to reviewing some of the available scholarships on Champlain's life that either debunks or praises his achievements. To underscore the importance of this man's contribution to modern Canadian history, there are thousands of certified documents attesting to his influence in a number of fields: agriculture, architecture, commerce, cartography, navigation, exploration, writing, government and warfare. Throughout this biography, Hackett-Fischer has made an excellent case for regarding Champlain as the ideal person to take on this historic quest to open a continent to a new civilization, with all its pros and cons.
on April 27, 2009
This book, written in time for the 400th anniversary of the founding of New France/Quebec, is an example of sophisticated, substantive historical scholarship using the latest primary sources. The bibliographic essay surveying the various interpretations of Champlain's life through the centuries (and the fads of History as a discipline), is especially noteworthy. Interesting that it took an American to produce it, rather than a Canadian; saying something of the Historical profession in Canada.
I had read one of Fischer`s earlier books, and therefore I was expecting a somewhat dry read. Well, what a pleasant surprise! This book was not only a fun read, but was also filled with fascinating details.
Fischer starts off by describing Champlain`s childhood and explaining the political background of France.The religious wars that occurred in France, end up shaping Champlain into a man of religious tolerance. Champlain was also quite tolerant of other cultures. These were very uncommon traits of that era, and end up having a large effect on the population of New France.
I never knew that Champlain had traveled to the Spanish New World Colonies, before traveling to North America. I also did not know anything about his earlier military encounters in France. These experiences shaped Champlain`s character.
Fischer has done his homework. The material is very well researched. He has also done some ground work as well. Fischer has visited many of the areas mentioned in the book, and also makes good use of recent archaeological finds.
In conjunction with this book, I would also highly recommend a visit to the Museum Of Civilization. The museum is located in the Ottawa-Hull(now called Gatineau) area. The museum has a great display on the salt water marsh settlements that were located in Acadia. The museum also has very interesting displays on the various First Nations of Canada. These displays add another dimension, to Fischer`s descriptions of early New France.
Champlain dedicated his life to developing a colony in New France. Even on his death bed, he continues to hold New France as his never ending quest. Fischer has done an incredible job telling Champlain`s story.
I would recommend this book, to anyone with even a slight interest in North American history.
on August 27, 2009
An excellent and detailed presentation of Canada's beginnings.
Easy reading, most informative and entertaining.
Champlain's Dream is a well researched and well written book that will undoubtedly become the definitive biography and history of Samuel de Champlain and development of the French colonies in North America.
It's an excellent book and the audio book, although it's an abridgement of the print edition, is excellent also.
The narrator, American actor Edward Hermann, has a very good narrative style and the audio book is clear and easy to follow.
I have a 40 minute highway commute to work and I pass the commute time listening to audio books. I thoroughly enjoyed the audio book of Champlain's Dream.
on August 4, 2015
Just finished this "tome", wow.
The detail that Pulitzer Prize winning author David Hackett Fisher supplies - all fully bookmarked/annotated as coming from Champlain's own writings, a "meta-study" of Champlain historians, ethno-historians and anthropologists, as well as current archeological discoveries, is nothing short of breathtaking. I felt my arms grow tired as I read about 175 mile canoe trips and 25 mile portages achieved inside a week...I could smell the black powder as Champlain and his handful of French arquebusiers joined the Huron and Algonguin in their wars of survival against the Iroquois Nation raiders...I actually felt a bit queasy reading of his 27 successful but stormy Atlantic crossings, never losing a ship or a man! I felt like grasping the Roman Catholic cardinals around the neck and shaking them!
Unlike his predecessors like Cabot or Cartier, Champlain had no desire to "conquer" the native peoples, and unlike the Spanish Conquistadors, he had no desire to enslave them, or exploit their labour. Unlike the English in Jamestown or Boston, he had no plan to push them off their land. No, Champlain's "dream" was a New France, in which all the first nations would live amongst the French settlers, harmoniously, in peace, symbiotically, and with love and respect.
And for a few brief years in the early part of the 17th century, from 1603 to his death in 1635, he darn near achieved it. Even the Huron and Mohawk stopped their vicious and bloody wars for one generation under Champlain's diplomacy. Though not without his faults (he respected the native folks more than his own French servants, and his bride, at 43, was 12), Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec...of Canada...was a singular man, and this is a beautifully written account of his 30 plus years fought trying to realize his dream of a harmonious New World.
Yo, Columbus, THIS is how it was supposed to have been done...