To those who read Clifford Dowdey's early novels, such as Gamble's Hundred, with their intimate portraiture of plantation life, this reads like a source book of his research. Viewed from another angle, it provides a segment of the American social history as characterized sharply in Berkeley, the Harrison plantation, which provided background and roots for men high in American achievement:- two presidents; one a governor three times of the newly created state of Virginia, signer of the Constitution (a reluctant signer- he felt he was signing away his birthright); men who contributed to the development of Virginia's colonial prosperity. But its real contribution lies in the portrayal of a way of life that is no more, the way of the planter, backbone of a region's economy, retainer of traditions inherited from England's county life, a real aristocracy. There's a great deal of early history here, focussed on the James River area, as he views plantation society as an evolutionary process, not simply static feudalism, American style. He explores the fumbling attempts at colonization -- an uncharted frontier assignment- in the Jamestown settlement. He marks the emergence of the yeoman class. He traces the coming of the royalists, with their background of English life. He analyzes the economic system- the gradual elimination of absentee ownership, the factors foreshadowing and contributing to the inevitable break with England. He gives us the early Williamsburg developing into a governmental and social center. All this was to me more interesting and fresh than the history of the Revolution -- the period of breakdown of plantation life- and the rather bitter and brief synopsis of the Civil War with ultimate disintegration of a facet of life. The Harrisons' portrait gallery is complete, but other famous figures in America's history are also mirrored here.