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

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  706 Ratings  ·  127 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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Nov 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, usa, nonfiction
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
Janet Biehl
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm proud to have copyedited this fine book.
Jan 27, 2013 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
Dec 06, 2012 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.
Jan 02, 2013 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
Jan 03, 2013 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
Nov 04, 2012 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
May 02, 2013 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
Nathan Albright
May 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge2017

This is not a book to be devoured in my usual fashion. It is a book that requires a fair bit of time to read, with over 500 pages of material, and also requires at least a little bit of reflection to digest it. Being fond of reading material about the colonial period of my country as well as material about the regional cultures that developed in British North America [1], this book proved to be an immensely detailed account of the first three-quarters of the seventeenth century in the area from
Clarence Hayes
Jan 19, 2014 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
Jan 27, 2013 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 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
Adrian Simmons
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure where I first heard of this book. It's been on my list for a while, and they happened to have it at Barnes and Noble so I picked it up.

Overall it is an excellent book about a very tumultuous time period. It is a bit sobering just how, well, bad things were for the vast majority of people who came over to the colonies. And, of course, things go incredibly bad for the Native American tribes once the Europeans start showing up.

One thing I found very interesting is that it seemed like
Jan 11, 2014 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
Jan 14, 2013 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
Tom Johnson
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1600s
Based on scholarship the book is no doubt a five but, uff-da, it takes an effort to plow through. Began this book September 16 and finished somewhere around October 16. Finally done with the cranberry harvest and now I'm done with Barbarous.

THE BARBAROUS YEARS The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675
Bernard Bailyn born 1922. The Barbarous Years published 2012. Bernard was 90? That is impressive.
Peopling a new world was a tough go for the pioneers as their w
Dec 17, 2012 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
JS Found
Nov 02, 2013 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
Feb 23, 2013 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
Jay Perkins
Sep 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
James Murphy
Dec 03, 2012 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
Mary Whisner
Aug 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
What do most of us know about this period of U.S. history? Jamestown, Pocohantas, Pilgrims, Puritans, Lord Baltimore, Manhattan bought for $24. Before reading this book, it wouldn't doesn't take long for me to run out of even jumbled information. I can't claim to remember most of what I read, but this 529-page book provided amazing depth that was really quite interesting. Some readers will find it a little too detailed, but it's very well written and rich in detail and analysis.

The first chapter
May 15, 2013 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
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
The fact that it took the better part of 8 months for me to finish this book should in no way suggest that it was not a compellingly good read. Tracking European settlement from south (Virginia) to north (Plymouth and Boston) the author ties together the disparate motivations, tribulations, accomplishments and failures of the various English, Dutch, Swedes, Africans and others as they moved back and forth across the Atlantic. As religion played such a key role in the 17th century world, he provi ...more
H Wesselius
Feb 17, 2015 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
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Covers the settling of the North America around Chesapeake Bay, Britain and Europe in the 1600's. Once I got going could hardly put the book down. Description of intra and external organizational dynamics of different groups of religious and nobles, and there was a multitude of different groups. Different nationalities, British, Scottish, Irish, Walloons, French, German, Polish, Jewish, Spanish, and a bunch of other nationalities that have been absorbed into other nations. Best description of th ...more
Peter C Lyon
Sep 21, 2017 rated it liked it
I wanted to get more excited about this book, but its bipolarity left me a little disappointed.

One one hand, Bailyn masterfully talks about the Indians as well as English, Dutch, and even Swedish settlers. On the other, he gets into ponderous theological arguments among the English - which isn't exactly what I expected.

Better maps, with comparisons as to where major cities are today, would be nice, too.
Dec 19, 2017 rated it liked it
An interesting book that tells the story of the experiences of the earliest European settlers in the future United States. Not only did these Europeans have to deal with the people already living here, but also with a totally different environment with different flora and fauna, including diseases. Bailyn cites original documents and letters describing the issues. My biggest problem with it is that it is a slow read compared to many of the other histories I have read.
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
2 and a half stars. I didn't need extreme detail for all aspects of the book, making it over 500 pages. But when I think that our time in history is brutal, it's nothing compared to what some people did to others, especially between the native Americans and the various nationalities who came to populate the east coast. And it really shed light on how extremely difficult the situation was for those who came here in the early 1600s. It's amazing that anyone survived--and most didn'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
More about Bernard Bailyn...