EVERYDAY LIFE IN EARLY AMERICA by David Freeman Hawke

EVERYDAY LIFE IN EARLY AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Primitive America was ""a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men."" Its settlers were tight-lipped survivalists perfectly suited to reshaping the New World by a Puritan work ethic carried over from the old country. So goes the myth. In fact, the early American wilderness was more pastoral than threatening; egalitarian (at least in name) than patriarchal; and its settlers adopted ""work"" as an ethic only because they had so much of it to do when they arrived. So goes the argument of this quotidian history, whose method and conclusions tacitly demonstrate the revisionist academic line that ""history"" ought to be a record of ""what happened"" rather than a cavalcade of grand ideas. Hawke's writing is, like his early American subjects, generally spartan and work-manlikie but touched with just enough imagination to fend off doldrums. By concentrating on early New England and Chesapeake settlements, he demonstrates the ""range"" of rather grave early. American lifestyles--corporate village life on the one hand and isolated agrarianism on the other--and occasionally leavens his stoic portrait with humorous notes: forks, for example, introduced to America in the 18th century, were initially considered a ""diabolical luxury,"" and a culture grounded heavily in The Common Book of Prayer was nearly undone in the 1650's when a ""lust for long hair"" infiltrated Boston. The elementary nature of this book--it is more a primer than a full study--dilutes its depth. Slavery and the troubles of women, for example, are glossed over. Overall, then, a fast, useful introduction to the period--but for the newcomer only.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Harper & Row