Book Review: “American Colonies”

By Ricki DeLeon, student, Center for Distance Learning

October 17, 2013

Book Review: “American Colonies”

Author: Alan Taylor 

Publisher: New York: Penguin Group, 2002. 

In 1492 an Italian sailor named Christopher Columbus obtained royal patronage from the Spanish crown to sail to East Asia in an attempt to establish a direct trade route to East Asia. After landing in Hispaniola (modern day Cuba), Columbus was under the impression his mission was a success. Far from reaching East Asia, it only became apparent after his death that he indeed sailed to a previously unknown continent – at least to Afro-Eurasian’s- yet to be explored by European sailors and merchants. Thus, the colonization of the Americas began, and forever altered the trajectory of history in Europe and the America’s. 

Alan Taylor’s book “American Colonies” sets out to give readers a very broad perspective of colonial America, by writing the colonial history of both American continents. Prior to the initial European settlements in the America’s, there was a vibrant and populous indigenous culture that had developed over thousands of years. Hence, the early history of the American colonies has as much to do with the European settlers’ relationship with the native inhabitants as it does anything else. Taylor writes the history of the European colonial settlements in the Americas’ by focusing on the history of each region of the continents as opposed to writing a linear historical account of the European colonization of the Americas. By focusing on each region, Taylor tells the history of the many different European nations that would eventually sail across the Atlantic to establish colonies. In each region Taylor outlines the social, economic, and political culture of the regions settled. Hostility with Native American inhabitants highlights most of the early history. Furthermore, Taylor tells the history of the native hostilities toward one another, and how European weapons and the hitherto seen European military culture transformed native warfare. Moreover, the unceasing conflict in Europe eventually spread to the colonies, engulfing the colonists and natives in an ever expanding web of hostility. The colonies, however, were initially settled for commerce. The Atlantic sea trade would transform into one of Europe’s most lucrative investments. The cultivation of sugar in the Caribbean Islands, tobacco in Virginia, rice and cotton in the Carolina’s, the extraction of raw materials in Central and South America, the fur trade and fisheries in modern day Canada, the shipbuilding industry in New England, and the African slave trade, proved to be extremely profitable for any nation that could develop enough military protection to protect and develop these respective industries. As these industries were developed, the ecosystem of the Americas was dramatically transformed as new weeds and plants were introduced, forests felled, and new animals were exported from Europe, shaping the ecology of the Americas’ we inhabit today. 

From the Canary Islands, to the Pacific coastal settlements, to the Hawaiian Islands, Taylor paints a picture of the American colonies that is an interesting read for anyone who wants to explore the Early Modern and Modern history of the Americas. “American Colonies” is an easy to read, and extremely informative book that forces the reader to think differently about any conceptions they may have had about the social, economic, and political aspects of the American colonies.

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