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Pulitzer Prize Finalist 2013
Bernard Bailyn gives us a compelling account of the first great transit of people from Britain, Europe, and Africa to British North America, their involvements with each other, and their struggles with the indigenous peoples of the eastern seaboard.
They were a mixed multitude—from England, the Netherlands, the German and Italian states, France, Africa, Sweden, and Finland. They moved to the western hemisphere for different reasons, from different social backgrounds and cultures, and under different auspices and circumstances. Even the majority that came from England fit no distinct socioeconomic or cultural pattern. They came from all over the realm, from commercialized London and the southeast; from isolated farmlands in the north still close to their medieval origins; from towns in the Midlands, the south, and the west; from dales, fens, grasslands, and wolds. They represented the entire spectrum of religious communions from Counter-Reformation Catholicism to Puritan Calvinism and Quakerism.
They came hoping to re-create if not to improve these diverse lifeways in a remote and, to them, barbarous environment. But their stories are mostly of confusion, failure, violence, and the loss of civility as they sought to normalize abnormal situations and recapture lost worlds. And in the process they tore apart the normalities of the people whose world they had invaded.
Later generations, reading back into the past the outcomes they knew, often gentrified this passage in the peopling of British North America, but there was nothing genteel about it. Bailyn shows that it was a brutal encounter—brutal not only between the Europeans and native peoples and between Europeans and Africans, but among Europeans themselves. All, in their various ways, struggled for survival with outlandish aliens, rude people, uncultured people, and felt themselves threatened with descent into squalor and savagery. In these vivid stories of individual lives—some new, some familiar but rewritten with new details and contexts—Bailyn gives a fresh account of the history of the British North American population in its earliest, bitterly contested years.
“If we are lucky, we will have our times analyzed by an historian with the intellectual and literary skills of Bernard Bailyn, who in his new book, The Barbarous Years, provides a highly detailed and meticulously researched account of the first great stage of England’s dominion over North America. Bailyn’s exploration of the forces at play is not new. . . . What is new is the painstaking detail, often extracted from previously untapped primary material, that Bailyn uses to support his argument. . . . The Barbarous Years [is] a cornucopia of human folly, mischief and intrigue.” –The Washington Independent Review of Books
“Bailyn spares no gory detail, but he treats his subjects with sympathy.” —The New Yorker
“Bailyn, an eminent historian of America’s early years, has written a wide-ranging account of its peoples and their intellectual preoccupations–overwhelmingly questions of religion–that shaped the period between 1600 and 1675. . . . Bailyn has given readers a bracing, unvarnished account of a century that determined what would follow.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Throughout the book, Mr. Bailyn patiently explains the origins of the people who migrated to America. Readers learn which regions of England, the Netherlands and Scandinavia produced the most migrants, which social classes were best represented, and the extent to which young males predominated within various migrant flows.” –The Wall Street Journal
“No one is better qualified to survey the carnage at Plymouth than Bailyn. . . . [The Barbarous Years is a] nutritious colonial fare that Bailyn so masterfully sets before us.” –Harvard Magazine
“Bernard Bailyn’s eloquent and highly readable The Barbarous Years is certain to be one of this year’s most honored books, and it deserves a wide readership. This is the essential history of the founding of what would become the original United States: the British Atlantic coastal colonies in Virginia, Maryland, New York and Massachusetts. . . . For those who already know pieces of colonial history, this book will consolidate and deepen your understanding. Few books bring you closer to the realities of colonial life. Or make you gladder that you weren’t there to experience them.” –The Dallas Morning News
“As Bailyn shows in his beautifully written introduction, natives and aliens were far more alike than we are accustomed to thinking.” –Maclean's
“It is tempting to call The Barbarous Years: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600—1675, Bernard Bailyn's third volume on the ‘peopling’ of the North American continent–he has already won a Pulitzer for an earlier volume–simply magisterial: sweeping, authoritative, commanding. But it is that and so much more. It has rare scholarly warmth, an understanding of how to be nimble with the material, to be an entertainer as well as a teacher, someone possessing both an easy familiarity with the subject combined with a responsibility–an eagerness–to keep an eye skinned for recent progress in the field, open to history’s secrets and surprises, finding the good stuff and steering clear of the fashionable. . . . What Bailyn does so well is to not only explain all the action but to pull it into a coherency, a great panoptical dazzle: what motivated people’s actions, how they conducted themselves and why.” –Christian Science Monitor
“The Barbarous Years, the long-awaited companion to Voyagers to the West, is an even greater achievement. . . . Both in the span of time he examines (the years 1600 to 1675) and in his effort to capture the full range of ‘the conflict of civilizations’ in the early European colonization of North America, The Barbarous Years is Bailyn’s most ambitious book. . . . With an extraordinary mastery of primary and secondary sources and a deft, vigorous prose style, Bailyn explores the clashes between Europeans and other peoples and among the Europeans, chronicling stories of horrific cruelty and suffering. . . . In its scope and depth, and in its ability to bring before us the appalling and sometimes ghastly story of early North America, this historical masterwork ensures that its readers will never again swaddle themselves in the comforting clichés of the colonial past.” –The Daily Beast
“Bailyn’s extensive skills at demography, material history, and ideological history are on full display.” –The Wilson Quarterly
“Magisterial. . . . Popular histories often gentrify these early events, but Bailyn’s gripping, detailed, often squirm-inducing account makes it abundantly clear how ungenteel they actually were.” —Kirkus Reviews
“This weighty book distills a lifetime of learning of one of our most authoritative historians of colonial America. . . . A history of the colonies built up of brilliant portraits of the people who interacted in these strange and fearsome lands. . . . This is not your school-book colonial history. . . . Only a historian as penetrating and stylish of pen as Bailyn could convince you that there was something important to say about the few Finns settling in the colonies. . . . An extraordinary work of profound seriousness, characteristic of its author.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Drawing on decades of sound, dynamic research, the author has provided scholars and general readers alike with an insightful and engaging account of Colonial America that signals a reset on Colonial studies, the culmination of his work. An important book. . . . Superbly told.” —Brian Odom, Library Journal (starred review)
“In Bailyn’s perceptive and erudite hands, the original British, Dutch, and Swedish ventures assume as wild and variegated guises as did the forceful individuals who embarked on them.” —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist