Saturday, July 30, 2011

Reflections: Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Adam C. Zern opines on Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War:

"Reading a book like the Mayflower immediately brings several things to mind: the nuanced nature of history, and the inherent limitations of understanding and interpreting history while dealing with a lack of information.  Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower is a very good book, one well worth reading.  It's a book that doesn't try too hard to tell a story of history that "changes everything" or tries to "turn the world upside down."  It's a book written by an author who seems to try diligently and honestly to provide a historical account based on the information available.

One can clearly see that the information available to the author is limited.  For example, the records that tell the story of the Mayflower and the subsequent struggle to establish a settlement, a community of Saints, is told almost exclusively from the point of view of the settlers.  Some oral traditions and legends were passed down among the Native Americans, but even those are shrouded in mythology.  You can also see when more records were being written because the author spends a disproportionate amount of time on what came to be known as King Philip's War - a war between many of the Native inhabitants of New England and the first generation descendants of the Pilgrims.  In the end, it doesn't change the overall impact and value of the book, but one has to wonder what else we could have learned if more records were kept by all people involved.

I learned a lot by reading the Mayflower.  One of the most rewarding tangential benefits of reading a book chronicling history is that it often brings to your attention other books that you probably never would have heard of otherwise.  For example, Mary Rowlandson's The Sovereignty and Goodness of God was mentioned a great deal in Philbrick's book, and I would love to read it some time in the future.  The Mayflower is a book definitely worth reading.  It provides a fascinating glimpse into the story of the much  heralded Pilgrims, the Puritans who came in their footsteps, the Native inhabitants who tried to share a land with them both, and the legacy that they left for a Nation not yet born."

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Love & Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation
Reflections: Democracy in America
Reflections: Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words

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