The Settling of the North American Continent
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 A colorful portrait that boldly highlights the cruelty, sharp practices, disease, madness, and brutality displayed--or brought about--by the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch in their subjugation of Native Americans and enslavement of Africans. In the wake of the 500th anniversary of Columbus's ``discovery'' of the New World, few historians are resisting the urge to attack the European exploitation of North America. Morgan (An Uncertain Hour, 1989, etc.) is no exception: For him, ``grand larceny'' might be more appropriate than ``settling'' to describe the European seizure of the continent. He emphasizes, for instance, French Jesuits' disruption of Indian culture rather than their zeal or physical courage. Morgan is short on analysis here, however, offering no real understanding of how the major American cities blossomed, or why North America, with all its problems, continued to attract settlers. He uses a variety of contemporary diaries, letters, and other documents to flesh out his story, which ranges from the Stone Age crossing of the Bering Land Bridge to the early 19th century. Morgan aims to write ``the story of mail carriers, sodbusters, circuit-riding judges, and Indian agents, of the people too busy occupying the land to make a claim on history.'' Although he veers a bit from his view from history's bottom rail (La Salle, the Virginian aristocrat William Byrd II, and Pilgrim governor William Bradford all receive excellent coverage), the author relates many an offbeat, sometimes jaunty, tale of ordinary people- -including Edward Marshall, whose marathon 60-mile walk in a day and a half helped William Penn's descendants swindle choice Pennsylvania land from the Indians; Eliza Lucas, who transformed the Carolinas' economy by introducing indigo; and Popä, the outraged shaman who masterminded the 1680 Pueblo revolt--the only Indian rebellion that successfully expelled a colonial power. Not strong on the reasons for European settlement, but a vivid panorama that makes one look forward to Morgan's projected next volume in this saga. (Four maps)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-69088-4
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993


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