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Colonial America: A Very Short Introduction

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In the traditional narrative of American colonial history, early European settlements, as well as native peoples and African slaves, were treated in passing as unfortunate aberrations in a fundamentally upbeat story of Englishmen becoming freer and more prosperous by colonizing an abundant continent of "free land."

Over the last generation, historians have broadened our understanding of colonial America by adopting both a trans-Atlantic and a trans-continental perspective, examining the interplay of Europe, Africa, and the Americas through the flow of goods, people, plants, animals, capital, and ideas. In this Very Short Introduction , Alan Taylor presents an engaging overview of the best of this new scholarship. He shows that American colonization derived from a global expansion of European exploration and commerce that began in the fifteenth century. The English had to share the stage with the French, Spanish, Dutch, and Russians, each of whom created alternative Americas. By comparing the diverse colonies of rival empires, Taylor recovers what was truly distinctive about the English enterprise in North America. He focuses especially on slavery as central to the economy, culture, and political thought of the colonists and restores the importance of native peoples to the colonial story. To adapt
to the new land, the colonists needed the expertise, guidance, alliance, and trade of the Indians who dominated the interior. This historical approach emphasizes the ability of the diverse natives to adapt to the newcomers and to compel concessions from them.

This Very Short Introduction describes an intermingling of cultures and of microbes, plants, and animals--from different continents that was unparalleled in global history.

Oxford's Very Short Introductions series offers concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects--from Islam to Sociology, Politics to Classics, Literary Theory to History, and Archaeology to the Bible. Not simply a textbook of definitions, each volume in this series provides trenchant and provocative--yet always balanced and complete--discussions of the central issues in a given discipline or field. Every Very Short Introduction gives a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how the subject has developed and how it has influenced society. Eventually, the series will encompass every major academic discipline, offering all students an accessible and abundant reference library. Whatever the area of study that one deems important or appealing, whatever the topic that fascinates the general reader, the Very Short Introductions series has a handy and affordable guide that will likely prove indispensable.

168 pages, Paperback

First published October 11, 2012

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About the author

Alan Taylor

157 books243 followers
Alan Shaw Taylor is a historian specializing in early American history. He is the author of a number of books about colonial America, the American Revolution, and the Early American Republic. He has won a Pulitzer Prize and the Bancroft Prize for his work.

Taylor graduated from Colby College, in Waterville, Maine, in 1977 and earned his Ph.D. from Brandeis University in 1986. Currently a professor of history at the University of California, Davis, he will join the faculty of the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia in 2014.

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5 stars
55 (17%)
4 stars
123 (39%)
3 stars
87 (27%)
2 stars
31 (9%)
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15 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
49 reviews
August 15, 2021
Colonial America is a very informational read about, as the title suggests, colonial America. I highly recommend to anyone taking a high school level US history course.
Profile Image for Nicky.
407 reviews2 followers
April 3, 2018
This was surprisingly not dry. I appreciated how it was broken down by country’s colonies and that the last chapter was on empire, featuring Captain Cook and Hawaii. Overall, a quick and useful read to prepare me for a colonial seminar.
Profile Image for Emily Poe.
18 reviews
August 27, 2022
Did I have to read this book for APUSH? Yes. Did I absolutely eat this shit up? Yes. Is it because I’m a slut for history? Absolutely. No, but actually this book was weirdly good. I enjoyed how Taylor focused on Native Americans and their roots and culture because sometimes I feel like they get over looked in classrooms and in textbooks so I enjoyed the new perspective and information. I kind of wished he included more information about the Indians in later chapters of the book, I felt as though he stopped mentioning them after chapter four ir so and just never mentioned them again. Granted the following chapters did focus heavily on European trade and the new colonies. Either way I enjoyed this book and it was super insightful and it was written in a way that made it easy to follow and understand what was happening.
Profile Image for Ishbel.
49 reviews
November 3, 2022
for Colonial North American History, Fall 2022

yes i am adding this. anything to get to my reading goal.
Profile Image for Iris Schmeder.
102 reviews
July 9, 2021
not the most exciting thing to read obviously, but actually rather engrossing with great cultural perspective which should not be too surprising considering it is a part of the lovely short introduction series done by oxford.
Profile Image for Richard Subber.
Author 7 books33 followers
January 2, 2018
This is another blockbuster in the A Very Short Introduction series.
No matter how much you know about colonial America, you’ll learn more from Taylor’s sweep of all the Atlantic horizons.
I won’t attempt the thankless task of summarizing a brief summary of the historical verities of the millions of American Indians who lived in North and South America for thousands of years, and of the Spanish, French, English, and Dutch colonists who invaded the Indians’ homelands.
For a new student of American history, Taylor’s work is a stunning, almost counter-intuitive presentation of the broad array and surprising diversity of “first contact” and subsequent colonial experiences—the Pilgrims were latecomers, they weren’t the “first Americans” in any way you can imagine.
For the serious student and the historian, Taylor offers many reminders of all the things you don’t know too well (or at all), and all the things you know about colonial America that aren’t true.
Before 1492, the indigenous populations of North and South America comprised about 7% of the inhabitants of Earth. In 1800, the American Indians were less than 1% of global population. In the 18th century, most of the new arrivals in the Americas were African slaves, not European colonists. These are a couple of the flip sides of the colonial success stories.
Read more of my book reviews and poems here:
Profile Image for Karyn.
204 reviews
November 12, 2017
This is a very concise introduction to colonial America. The harshness and brutality are always part of the picture, and the author does not spare the reader.
This book is informative and serves as a guide to further reading, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in how the New World was established by the European empires of the time.
Profile Image for Canon.
637 reviews64 followers
July 11, 2021
Taylor's terrific overview of Colonial America begins with this map, which a delegation of Catawba chiefs presented to South Carolina colonial governor Sir Francis Nicholson in 1721:

"[Representing] their villages as a network of linked circles... the map introduced the governor to a complex network of diverse peoples... Rather than depict geographical proportions, the map conveys social and political relationships between people, both native and colonial... The map represents an Indian bid to incorporate the newcomers into a native nexus of diplomacy and trade in the hope that the colonists could learn how to coexist in a shared land... We need to recall the very different cultural landscape of colonial America, where natives hoped to integrate the newcomers, who dwelt in a world of square buildings and properties, into a net work of circles and paths. To understand the true sweep of colonial America and the pivotal importance of native peoples, multiply by a thousand the circles and the relational paths of the Nasaw map. Extend that array across the continent with links to British squares up and down the Atlantic seaboard; Spanish squares in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and California; French squares in the Mississippi and St. Lawrence watersheds; and even Russian squares in the far northwest along the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska coast. That dense and complex picture belies the imperial fantasies of textbook maps where the claims of vast European empires cover the continent, prematurely submerging the many native peoples. Indeed, it took for centuries of trial and error, struggle and setback for euro Americans to dominate the continent. During the long colonial era, the natives of the vast interior could oblige sojourning traders and soldiers to play by the rules of native diplomacy. Circles were not squares, but both had to share paths between them."

Love that!

This put a large array of facts of which I was fragmentarily aware into a timeline and context -- from Spain's settlement of St. Augustine to Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia to Jesuit missions in Quebec to King Philip's War to Braddock's Defeat, and much more. Taylor is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian at UVA who writes brilliantly, and so I highly recommend this if you want to get up to speed on Colonial American history, or want a new angle on that history.
Profile Image for Bookluvr7.
154 reviews
August 30, 2022
For being one of the first books I read as a history book it was actually good. While I give this 5 stars I am not rating it the same as the other fantasy books I’ve read. I’m eating it 5 stars because I think the information it provided and the way it told the story of Colonial America was brilliantly laid out. This explains the story from the immigration of Natives to America all the way to the American Revolution and some other facts about Alaska and Hawaii as the became ran by the United States. I definitely recommend this book if you are looking to find out more about Colonial America but don’t want a 300 page long book. 5/5 stars.
Profile Image for Robert Oliver.
Author 1 book2 followers
February 21, 2019
This was just what I was looking for, a small and concise introduction to the colonization of the new world. I especially appreciated to strong inclusion of the Indian perspective. The author not only showed reactions to colonization, but accommodations as well. A very good short read, and if you are seeking a brief introduction.
Profile Image for Eric.
177 reviews2 followers
January 1, 2022
I enjoyed this. Read most of it in one day while flying home from NYE. Easy read and informative even if it doesn't as in-depth as it could. It's a "short introduction" after all... and honestly, that's all I need.
I'll be looking for more books in this series.

Bonus points: It's small and fits in my pocket.
Profile Image for Josie.
69 reviews
March 12, 2023
this is a very alright book for a history class. i learned some new information, which is what a history book should do. there were some pictures, but i wish there were more. i appreciate it being "very short"
Profile Image for Vienna.
145 reviews1 follower
September 6, 2019
Interesting but boring. I probably would have liked it more if I didn't have to take notes on it for school.
418 reviews
July 30, 2020
Served its purpose as an introduction to Colonial America and went into the right amount of detail on all matters.
81 reviews
August 30, 2020
A lot of information on a single page. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I didn't have to take notes for school. Dry at times and interesting at others, it wasn't outstanding.
Profile Image for Rob.
76 reviews
October 26, 2021
Clear, concise, and beautifully written. This overview invites the reader to consider some of the dynamics that create this country. Worth the time to read.
35 reviews
February 1, 2022
Read the title. It really is a short introduction to the period. It gives a good overview of what went on, though I wish it provided more primary sources or documents in the reading. Still very good.
Profile Image for Palswd.
17 reviews
June 23, 2022
History dotted with a little bit of demography, economics and epidemiology; also has an extensive list of further readings.
Profile Image for Bill Dauster.
136 reviews2 followers
July 10, 2022
A frank, honest, and balanced account of the diverse forces colonizing North America, full of interesting insights.
Profile Image for Iz.
36 reviews2 followers
September 16, 2022
mostly easy to read for class but sometimes i just couldnt retain any information rip
September 21, 2020
This book demonstrates again that history is always not how we try to picture it and an invitation to not succomb to the simplifications that american colonies formed a single body sharing the same ideologies ; that indians were one nation etc... we see here that it is not. Every colony has its own defining characters . For example I understood that nothern colonies first immigrants were relying on themselves for hard work because they believed in that , and that explains the low dependency on slaves compared to middle and southern colonies.Also indians were many groups and their survival depended on the balance of power between the french, the spanish and the english.
An enjoying and short read that explains the present america. I recommend it.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews

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