An armchair historian collects his favorite tales from the early days of the United States.
Boynton’s debut work takes a close look at American history. The text begins with the early European visitors to the North American continent, moves through various European settlers and explorers as well as Native American history, and ends in the 1830s with Texas’ declaration of independence and the Trail of Tears. Focusing primarily on stories that might get short shrift in a history classroom, Boynton introduces readers to such figures as James Wilkinson, an American general who was an agent for the Spanish government and a co-conspirator of Aaron Burr. The work also touches on events that many students may be unfamiliar with, such as the skirmishes between post-Revolutionary American ships seeking new trading partners in the Mediterranean and pirates from the Barbary Coast (“The need for protection of merchant vessels in the Mediterranean against the Barbary pirates reminded the new Federal government that a navy indeed had its uses”). As a work of storytelling, the account can be engaging, but as a volume of historical scholarship, it is somewhat troubling. Boynton admits to a lackadaisical approach to his material, explaining that he borrows heavily from his sources, and acknowledges that he uses quotations without attributing them due to “laziness” and an interest in preserving the narrative. His sources are primarily more than 40 years old, and this is reflected in an antiquated examination of events that often has disturbing overtones: paragraphs that reference vague “Indian warriors” who torture and occasionally eat their captives; complaints of “a fog of political correctness” that condemns the early white Americans who “thought they had good reason for acting as they did and acted in times when ideas of fairness and justice were often different from our own”; and the repeated use of the term “Negro slave.” While Boynton acknowledges the need for complexity while looking at the historical record; recognizes that a “manifest destiny”-style exploration is limited; and devotes a few chapters to Native Americans, the overall impression remains that the book employs a traditional, conservative, and Eurocentric viewpoint.
While it often provides a deeper look at American figures and events than can be found in many textbooks, this dense work uses an outdated approach to history.