Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts Review

Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts
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Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts ReviewDaniel Richter's "Before the Revolution" is among a handful of recent major histories of early America that compel a serious re-thinking of our political and economic origins - particularly in light of current voices in national and state politics. First, one must admire the extraordinary grasp of detail evident in this work. The book must be a summa of an entire lifetime of careful study. But more importantly, details in this work paint the larger movements of life throughout the settlement of this country. Richter's conceptual handle on the themes of America's early development are richly conveyed throughout every stage in this history. One looks to historians for far more than facts and Richter delivers in very compelling ways. The prose is lucid and gives a solid narrative sense without losing the reader among tangential episodes. The book gives yet more evidence of how profoundly early American culture and settlement events were shaped by religious and political trends in England and Europe. Richter captures the conflation of spiritual/religious motives with raw greed for land and power in ways that make a mockery of typical lay renderings of this time period. One's understanding of the sources for slavery of Native Americans, Irish and English down-and-outs,and then of Africans are exhaustively conveyed in this text. One cannot walk away feeling utterly freed from the lasting effects of this history.
Richter's work stands among several others of note for this time period. Fred Anderson's "The Crucible of War" is another richly detailed and comprehensive account of some of the same period. Kevin Phillip's "The Cousin's War" underscores some similar themes with again a rich narrative and conceptual grasp in showing how the issues arising from the English Civil War fed into the American Revolution and Civil War. Gary B. Nash's "The Unknown American Revolution" compels a radical re-understanding of the various forces leading into the American Revoultion - again with emphasis on the curious admixture of ideals and raw power-thrusting behaviors. Alan Taylor's "The Civil War of 1812" picks up a few decades later, but is again a masterful treatment of many of the same themes contained in these other histories.
I underline as I read to capture the most salient or instructive passages. Suffice it to say I found myself underlining something on almost every page of Richter's work. What a great text to use for a history course! To my reading, Richter and the other authors mentioned above make of most "history" that is taught in the secondary schools mere propaganda. We live in a bubble of fantasies about what our country was made from and judging from contemporary politicians' statements, we continue to fabricate moral myths from a past that offers little moral inspiration.Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts Overview
America began, we are often told, with the Founding Fathers, the men who waged a revolution and created a unique place called the United States. We may acknowledge the early Jamestown and Puritan colonists and mourn the dispossession of Native Americans, but we rarely grapple with the complexity of the nation's pre-revolutionary past. In this pathbreaking revision, Daniel Richter shows that the United States has a much deeper history than is apparent—that far from beginning with a clean slate, it is a nation with multiple pasts that stretch back as far as the Middle Ages, pasts whose legacies continue to shape the present.

Exploring a vast range of original sources, Before the Revolution spans more than seven centuries and ranges across North America, Europe, and Africa. Richter recovers the lives of a stunning array of peoples—Indians, Spaniards, French, Dutch, Africans, English—as they struggled with one another and with their own people for control of land and resources. Their struggles occurred in a global context and built upon the remains of what came before. Gradually and unpredictably, distinctive patterns of North American culture took shape on a continent where no one yet imagined there would be nations called the United States, Canada, or Mexico.

By seeing these trajectories on their own dynamic terms, rather than merely as a prelude to independence, Richter's epic vision reveals the deepest origins of American history.

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