Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and WarMayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

My brother-in-law (Kansas Dad's brother) is a PhD student in American history, focusing on the period up to the American Revolution. I recently asked for some book recommendations as I wanted to learn more about the eras we'll be studying next year. He recommended this book and I second it.

Everyone knows the familiar tale of the Pilgrims searching for religious freedom, but few of us follow their tale much farther than the first Thanksgiving (such as it was). Mr. Philbrick begins his tale years before the Mayflower sailed and provides detailed backgrounds on nearly all of the passengers. Beyond their goal of religious freedom, the book explores the personalities of the individuals and families, how they worked together and how they struggled.

Most interestingly, Mr. Philbrick goes beyond the first year or two to describe the culture and towns that grew up in the generations after the Mayflower landed. He explores the relationships between the transplanted Europeans and the Native Americans as well as the relationships with Europe. My own knowledge of history pretty much skipped from the first Thanksgiving to the Revolutionary Warm, but obviously much happened, including King Philip's War. As the author states, "this culminating event--King Philip's War--brought into disturbing focus the issues of race, violence, religious identity, and economic opportunity that came to define America's inexorable push west." This war shaped New England for generations to come and perhaps even into modern times.

I lived for a few years in Boston and visited Plimoth Plantation (which I highly recommend). I loved reading this book that placed the area into additional context for me. I wish very much I could travel there for another visit!

There was a little discussion at Afterthoughts recently on reading history books written for adults aloud to the family. I think much of this book could be fascinating for a family, but King Philip's War was brutal with atrocities committed by both sides. Much in the second half of the book would need to be adapted for young listeners. I think middle-schoolers might be alright, though always pre-read. I was thinking of my oldest at seven or eight and knew I didn't want to share many of the events with him or younger sisters.

By the way, Nathaniel Philbrick also wrote In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex which I enjoyed as well.

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