Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Most Shocking Thing About the Pilgrims

Here is my attempt at a Kirkus-style review -- of the work that my bookclub is discussing next week ...

Philbrick, Nathaniel
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War
Penguin (463 pp.)
ISBN: 978-0-14-311197-9 (pbk.)

Nathaniel Philbrick previously garnered respect for his New York Times bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2000, and Sea of Glory: The Epic South Seas Expedition, 1838–1842. Now, the author further cements his reputation with this eye-opening look at the Pilgrims’ settling on Cape Cod and their unfolding relationship with the Native Americans.

Philbrick the narrator gives neither a Hallmark-like view of the Pilgrims nor a modern picture of evil Europeans abusing an innocent native population. Instead, he shares the findings from his meticulous research with us and let’s us decide. The book features the kind of dense, historical narrative that readers of nonfiction love. Philbrick depicts all of his real-life characters as fully human with varying degrees of good and bad in them. He also doesn’t take sides, as the evidence seems to indicate that both the Pilgrims and the Native Americans showed kindness to, and committed atrocities against, one another.

Amidst all of the fascinating and shocking details in the Mayflower is the revelation that in 1675, after living together in peace for over 50 years, the Native Americans and the English went to war with each other. King Philip’s War, named for a sachem known as “King Philip,” claimed 5,000 lives, which was approximately seven percent of the population of New England at the time. Philbrick writes in his preface, “In terms of percentage of population killed, King Philip’s War was more than twice as bloody as the American Civil War and at least seven times more lethal than the American Revolution.” Yet few people seem to know about this conflict. Philbrick himself told Publisher’s Weekly (April 24, 2006) that he was surprised about what he found out while doing his research. Mayflower has much to contribute to the annals of history, but if it makes a lasting impression on us, it will be in raising our awareness of King Philip’s War.


  1. I loved this book. I found it to be an eye-opener in many ways. I have read others by Philbrick and enjoy his style of writing.

  2. Lots of nifty Kirkus-Style vocab. :)