Monday, June 19, 2006
The problem with writing a book on something that everyone already knows about it is the possibility of alienating your potential audience.
Most schoolchildren know how the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims survive the first year in America and all celebrated with a Thanksgiving feast. Some might even know that the Native Americans brought what most modern Americans would consider good food, while the Pilgrims had some great stewed eels.
So when I was walking through Samís Wholesale Club and I saw a somewhat thick book titled Mayflower : A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick . I almost didnít pick it up. Fortunately for me, the cover intrigued me enough to read the book flap, which then helped me decide to purchase it.
Intriguingly, Mr. Philbrick does not assume that you know the story of the Pilgrims; he starts from scratch and builds a foundation based upon the community that the Pilgrims were so desperately wanted to build. This desire saw the group first move to Holland, where surprisingly agents of the King tried to arrest members of the community, and then to the shores of America. As you go through the book you realize that the group sole goal was to build a community that could withstand the upcoming Armageddon and to do so they had to approach the natives as equals.
As the book continues we see how the colony has achieved success and expanded throughout what we now call New England but it is not the community that the Pilgrims had desired. Nor do the children who have now taken leadership roles in both the Native American tribes and the colony, have the same desire of living together in a symbiotic relationship. We see several mistakes by both sides that could have easily been defused, lead to King Phillipís war, a war that would devastate both sides.
Throughout the second half of the book as the war and its accompanying death and destruction, Mr. Philbrick makes a point of showing how earlier in the colonyís history, events that you are reading about, could never have been imagined much less have happened. But it is not just the war that takes place; it is also how the two sides treat each other and why they did so. It is a tragic tale of a beautiful friendship gone terribly wrong.
This book does a fantastic and enjoyable job of showing how the colonists came to America and struggled to establish a foothold that would transform into the beginning of a new nation. It pulls no punches showing the mistakes of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans and also highlights the accomplishments. So even though I thought I knew about the Pilgrims, I learned more in this one book than I have ever before.
One major drawback that I came across was one of the final conclusions of Mr. Philbrick where he tried to compare the failures of the colonial government and the current administrationís policy towards terrorism. This is an otherwise beautiful book, soiled by an attempt to politicize the Pilgrims and their actions from so long ago.