A reevaluation of the Puritans and a fresh look at the process of becoming American in the 17th century. Delbanco (English/Columbia) attempts here to glimpse the feelings behind the oratory and written documentation of the Puritan existence. He is, he writes, ""unabashedly devoted to. . .the possibility of fervor rather than embarrassment"" about the Puritans--a group whose bad press of late has included the president of the Modern Language Association calling them the people ""who massacred the Indians and established the self-righteous religion and politics that determined American ideology."" Primary to understanding what made the Puritans into Americans, Delbanco asserts, is the realization that they were infused by the idea of being ""immigrants."" The author criticizes historians who have perpetuated the myth of the Puritans as somehow intuitively convinced of their place in ""the general assembly of the first-born."" Thus, Delbanco finds many analogies between the Puritan experience and that of the later wave of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. ""The word 'brethren,' ""he writes, ""became, for both the Puritans and their enemies, the seventeenth-century equivalent of 'comrades.' "" In the end, Delbano returns to refuting the notion of the Puritans' ""chosenness""--finding that the distinctly American note in their experience is one of collective loneliness, a factor that the author feels holds clues not only to Puritanism but to American culture as a whole. Dense going at times, but a noteworthy historical analysis.