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The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675

3.87  ·  Rating Details  ·  475 Ratings  ·  99 Reviews
From an acclaimed historian of early America, a compelling account of the first great transit of people from Britain, Europe, and Africa to the British colonies of North America and their involvements with each other and the indigenous peoples of the eastern seaboard.

The immigrants were a mixed multitude—coming from England, the Netherlands, German and Italian states, Fran
Hardcover, 640 pages
Published November 6th 2012 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2012)
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Dec 26, 2012 Hadrian rated it really liked it
The history of the inhabitants of the Atlantic Seaboard in the 17th century was no Thanksgiving dinner party. Instead, it was more like Hobbes' dictum that life is full of "continual fear, and danger of violent death; [...] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

The native inhabitants, of course, were the real first Americans. They were extremely varied in culture, customs, and languages, had extremely difficult, perhaps Spartan upbringings for their children, and occasionally engaged in ex
Dec 04, 2013 Diana rated it really liked it
This book was impressive and eye-opening. Certainly much different from the whitewashed history of American colonization I read. Of course you get the general idea that the Native Americans got the short end of the stick etc. -- but this book is horrifyingly descriptive in what specific populations did to each other -- native tribe to English tribe, English tribe to Dutch tribe, Puritan tribe to themselves, etc. Loved the nitty gritty details but also the very textbooky approach. Definitely not ...more
Janet Biehl
Jun 10, 2012 Janet Biehl rated it it was amazing
I'm proud to have copyedited this fine book.
Sep 15, 2013 Peter rated it it was amazing
I know it was bit of a slog, and took months to finish, but don't judge a book by how long it takes one to read it. This is a masterpiece of historical writing. If you want to know how it felt to be a part of the European settlement of the New World, you can trust Dr. Bailyn to be the one to give an accurate account of life in America in the early 1600's. ILife in the colonies was not the often told celebratory tale of Thanksgiving cooperation, (which, oddly, is not covered in this book) but rat ...more
Feb 05, 2016 Brent rated it it was amazing
"They were provincials, listening for messages from abroad, living in a still barbarous world, struggling to normalize their own way of life, no less civil, they hoped, than what had been known before." This sentence from page 529 ends this great book. I couldn't put it down.

I have two minor complaints with this magisterial work.

This is not the best summary of knowledge of Native American chiefdoms and culture conflict, though it's very good on the Chesapeake (Virginia and Maryland) struggles.
Jun 09, 2013 George rated it really liked it
I was primarily interested in reading this book as further background for my part-time job as an historical interpreter at Pioneer Village in Salem, MA. This is a great curative for books that make our history sound like one long, glorious march of progress.
This is a scrupulously-researched, very detailed account of how the "good old days" were never really that good especially for the people who were convinced or coerced into risking a venture to the new world and the Virginia colony. Corporate
Jan 03, 2013 David rated it really liked it
Dr Bailyn has created another masterpiece detailing the European settlement of what is now the United States. I found the title particularly of note, in that it extends to not only the physical violence of the clash between European and native cultures, plus the extraordinary survival challenges faced by European immigrants (as well as by the native Americans), but also to the religious and philosophical conflicts dominating the Massachusetts and other New England settlements in these early year ...more
Dec 11, 2012 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: us-history
There aren't many history books I can read in 100+ page chunks. This was one. Usually the only thing that stopped me reading was my eyes refusing to focus any longer. I thought Bailyn did an excellent job of showing both the big picture and details of individual colonists.

His structure is geographical, moving roughly north from Virginia to Massachusetts. Sometimes this can make it difficult to keep track of how events correspond chronologically. Also, it felt like Rhode Island and Connecticut g
Clarence Hayes
Jan 27, 2014 Clarence Hayes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well written comprehensive survey of the historical literature on the first 3-4 generations of European settlement on the Atlantic coast from Virginia to New England - highly recommended.

The book does an excellent job of providing the European background, who were the investors, where did the settlers come from, what were their motivations, what forces back home were helping or hindering their success, how did those supporters fit into the tumultuous politics of 17th century Britain and Hollan
Kevin Kizer
Dec 04, 2013 Kevin Kizer rated it liked it
Do you enjoy curling up with a book filled with stories of torture, slaughter and all kinds of nastiness? Well, I have the book for you! And since it’s about American History you can feel like a patriot as you read it.

Now, there are many history books out there that cover America in the 1700s, but there aren’t that many covering the century beforehand when there weren’t really “American settlers” so much as some rag-tag groups of Brits, Finns, Dutch, et al, trying to find a new place to call ho
Kristi Thielen
Feb 24, 2013 Kristi Thielen rated it it was amazing
Very scholarly but engrossing work about those colonists you read about in the first chapter of your middle school history textbook . . . and why the one-dimensional images you were given are almost entirely wrong.

Hostility to native peoples was rampant, yes; but colonists were also hostile to any immigrant who had come from a town, city or hamlet other than their own. Starvation, often because of colonists' unwillingness to adapt to the crops that best grew in their new environment,was a consta
H Wesselius
Feb 17, 2015 H Wesselius rated it it was ok
Bailyn is one of the foremost American historians who by his very longevity and production deserves respect. However, he seems to have struck out here. In terms of research and knowledge, this is an excellent source but in terms of reading pleasure, purpose and understanding, one should look elsewhere. He details in impressive quantity the early settlements along the eastern seaboard and their interactions with native, African and each other. The one redeeming feature is the impressive chapters ...more
Feb 13, 2014 Tom rated it liked it
Okay, I actually feel a little bad for only giving three stars, because there are a lot of great things about this book. The prose style, for one; Professor Bailyn's writing is elegant, almost old fashioned at times, but always compelling. He has a gift for quick and deft character sketches, a gift many novelists and journalists would envy. And he has a lot of insightful things to say about the colonization of America. I particularly liked the second-to-last section, about the Puritans in New En ...more
James Murphy
Dec 20, 2014 James Murphy rated it it was amazing
This is big history. The description "the peopling of North America" tells the scope of Bailyn's history, though he's writing solely about the European migration to the eastern seaboard of what became British North America. In the early 17th century social and economic innovations along with religious dissent stimulated a new mobility among the English and, to a lesser degree, the Dutch. England fell into economic depression. Religious pressure demanded a conformity some groups were unwilling to ...more
Jun 13, 2013 Mmetevelis rated it really liked it
Bailyn weaves new scholarship about the early colonial period into a dense but rich narrative. Proceeding geographically from south to north Bailyn illustrates how the early settlers from diverse backgrounds attempted to transplant their accustomed social and economic structures into the new world with frustrating consequences. Bailyn is a master historian, writing authoritatively about matters from agricultural patterns to religious controversies, and illustrates the trends he is writing about ...more
Dec 17, 2012 Jerry rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This was an interesting book but quite long. I was not actually able to finish it. It was more detail than I was willing to invest the time to absorb. I was most fascinated by the accounts of the conflicts between the settlers and the native Indians. It led me to conclude that there was an inevitability in the deadly struggles between two incompatible cultures. Even when there was an initial intent to coexist, the situation devolved into war, time after time.

There was a continuous state of conf
Jan 14, 2013 Jim rated it liked it
I read this book because of the subtitle, "The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675." I assumed it would concentrate on the conflicts between the invading European civilizations and those of the natives. Not far into the book, however, I realized that native civilizations were only mentioned in passing: the emphasis was on the conflicts among the Europeans. I finished reading it anyway, and it was very informative. Much of the interplay between English and ...more
Sep 25, 2014 Cynthia rated it liked it
I feel a little silly writing a 3-star review of a book written by Bernard Bailyn, who is one of the most accomplished living American historians. But.... this book had some undeniably odd aspects that detract from the overall quality. I will discuss a few of them. First, the book opens with a chapter describing life as a Native American (NA), in particular from a psychological standpoint. While beautifully written, and conveying some good information, the chapter was also nearly cringe-worthy. ...more
The Barbarous Years is a rather long book for one that covers only the years 1600 through 1675 in British North America. That said, these years were formative for what would come to define the American character and future Atlantic history. Because of this, the 640 pages seem hardly enough to do the subject credit.

Because of the time period it would be easy to slip into an ultra left or right ideological position, but unlike most academics Professor Bailyn had not given into the temptation or p
James R. C.  Baker
May 14, 2014 James R. C. Baker rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I did not appreciate that, "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 f ...more
Nicholas Jordan
Mar 11, 2014 Nicholas Jordan rated it it was amazing
The immense challenge of beginning a new colony in a strange and hostile land is graphically laid out. The ferocity of the native-Americans, the harsh climate, and the social struggle between the classes were daunting. Most fascinating was the brutality and bloodthirsty actions of the settlers, every bit as gruesome as the native-Americans. How ironic that the Puritans who were oppressed in England to come to America with the ideal of religious freedom to end up becoming so oppressive themselves ...more
Apr 29, 2015 John rated it it was ok
It might seem unfair to give Bernard Bailyn such a low rating...after all, it's not like he became a poor historian or his writing has gone downhill or anything. I just don't understand what the point of this book is. It's basically just yet another recounting of the first years of the English colonies, plus Dutch New Netherland and the New Sweden parts of the Delaware. Which ok, those don't get integrated with the English colonies much, but come on. Why do we need the same old story about Virgi ...more
If you want to immerse yourself in the early colonial period of eastern North America, there is no better place to start than Bernard Bailyn's The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America. As the title suggests it covers the conflicts of the era, but not only the armed conflicts. In the heady mix and times of the early colonial period conflict occurred in every arena - religious, political, economic, and cultural - and between nearly every identifiable group. Framing the conflict a ...more
Mar 05, 2013 Liam rated it it was amazing
"How can won describe this [Indian] world? For those who experienced it, it was spiritually hyperactive and crowded; it was integrated, from the cosmos to every animate and inanimate object within it; it was diverse -- linguistically, ethnically, politically, and socially; and it was skillful in stone-age technology and competent in managing available resources and ensuring survival." (27)

"The most distinctive group [in the mid-Atlantic] were Finns -- forest folk, whose cultural and geographical
JS Found
Nov 03, 2013 JS Found rated it it was amazing
237 years old, America hasn't changed. It was founded on business, violence and religion and it still values these things as gods to be worshiped. Whereas the settlers first slaughtered the natives, we now kill innocent brown people overseas. Where they used guns and knives, we use robots from the sky. Where the settlers had religious wars amongst themselves, we now have ideological and political wars that are just as heated as they were and with the participants just as certain. Politics has re ...more
Jay Perkins
Though at times dry and laborious to read, this is a very remarkable book. Bailyn is one of the leading scholars of Colonial America and is greatly responsible for understanding the era in an Atlantic context. In this book he visits the first settlements of the British colonies, their causes, effects, and people. He does a great job by not only discussing important people well known to us, but explains who the common people were, what they did, what they believed, and where they came from.
One of
Aug 30, 2013 Mark rated it liked it
Judging from period hairstyles, a better title might have been The Barberless Years. But seriously, Bailyn has done here a deep and scholarly look at the initial conflict between Native Americans and Europeans in what would become British North America. But it seems curiously incomplete. I can maybe see omitting the French and Spanish experiences (no Florida, no Quebec), but the odd and arbitrary choice to cut the story off at 1675 leaves out the story of Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, etc. Also, ...more
Adam Lund
Dec 21, 2015 Adam Lund rated it liked it
An interesting and detailed history of the early peopling of the Atlantic colonies between Massachusetts and tidewater Virginia. The detail does bog down the general reader in religious factionalism and local politics, which can detract from the broader historical narrative. Beyond pilgrims and colonial Williamsburg, Bailyn provides the economic, political and religious incentives that led to settlement throughout colonial America, and conflicts with Native Americans.
Frank Roberts
Mar 12, 2013 Frank Roberts rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I really liked the first half of this book. The early history of the Chesapeake and Mid-Atlantic colonies was something I had very little exposure to previously, and it was fascinating to learn of the struggles, the conflicts, and the severe hardships. The clash of cultures between the Europeans and the Native American was well-explained. That dark first century of European settlement in what became the USA was portrayed in a way that was very clear and interesting.

However, the second half of t
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Bernard Bailyn is an American historian, author, and professor specializing in U.S. Colonial and Revolutionary-era History. He has been a professor at Harvard since 1953. Bailyn has won the Pulitzer Prize for History twice (in 1968 and 1987). In 1998 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected him for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the ...more
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