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American Colonies: The Settling of North America (The Penguin History of the United States #1)

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  2,534 Ratings  ·  135 Reviews
With this volume, Alan Taylor challenges the traditional story of colonial history by examining the many cultures that helped make America. Transcending the usual Anglocentric version of our colonial past, he recovers the importance of Native American tribes, African slaves, and the rival empires of France, Spain, the Netherlands, and even Russia in the colonization of Nor ...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published July 31st 2003 by Penguin (first published 2001)
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Some reviews on this site mention Taylor’s “leftist bias,” allege a soft-pedaling of Native American violence and environmental impact. I don’t really see it. Sure, Taylor has his moments of passionate phrasing, but a work of this scope and synthesis (all colonial experiments in North America, and most in the Caribbean, from Columbus to the California missions) is a poor vehicle for agitation; the reading, and perhaps the writing, of any lofty historical survey insinuates an abstraction, a detac ...more
I picked this book up off the discount shelf at a bookstore many years ago when I was going through my compulsive accumulation of books. I chose it not knowing anything about it other than it was a history book and that it served my purpose of getting to know history better one day. The title seemed a little boring, the subject a little bland, but oh how looks and initial impressions can be deceiving. Much to my surprise, this is a wonderful and bountiful history book. It abounds in scope, reada ...more
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Alan Taylor's "American Colonies" seems like a benign title in what is (or was supposed to be) Penguin Books first volume of the publisher's History of the United States of America, given the content of this well researched, well documented and well referenced book.
The theme of "American Colonies" is enslavement, expansion, exploitation and extermination.
Taylor ends this volume in 1820, but in the preceding decades imperial rivalries between the British, the French, the Spanish and for a brief p
Fred R
Dec 30, 2010 rated it liked it
This would be excellent history except that the narrative is continually interrupted by politically correct qualifications and adjustments. This habit is extremely annoying, particularly when one is reading for edification, not moral ammunition.

Steve Sailer once said: "Besides being useful (in all sorts of hard to predict ways), the truth is really, really interesting, while political correctness is skull-crushingly boring. That's because every truth in the universe is connected somehow to ever
Rebecca Radnor
Taylor does a wonderful job of covering the breath and depth of the development of the colonial period in North America (British, French, Spanish and even Russian), with a strong emphasis on economic drivers that impacted cultural differences in each colony. (Warning, I'm an anthropologist & historian who also studies international business, so seeing this stuff makes me happy.) He offers a great deal of data regarding push/pull economics and demographics between the mother country and the c ...more
Justin Evans
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-etc
A model work of new-style history. Taylor's book isn't a straight narrative, but it has the grip of one thanks to his eye for detail, his better than passable prose (which, in academic history, is... well, that's very high praise), and his even-handedness. The settling of North America was not a pleasant thing. As ever, the test for a work of history is whether it makes you want to read other books on the same topic, and this one did that in spades.

A friend has done an excellent review of this
Aug 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I had to read this for my comps list, and it confirmed my earlier opinion (based on skimming). This would work really well as a basic text for the sort of early American history class that I would like to teach. Taylor adopts an Atlantic World/North American approach, so he provides the history of New Spain and New France, as well as the English colonies, and he doesn't limit himself to only the English colonies that became the first thirteen states. The Caribbean colonies play an important role ...more
John E
Dec 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fine multicultural history of the movement of European people and ideas to the Americas with the resulting drastic changes to the indeginous people and landscapes. Well worth the time to read.
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: oxford-history
This book takes an expansive look at re-examining early colonialism in the Americas, and I picked it up in part because some friends of mine all agreed to take on the Oxford History of the United States. Alan Taylor's work, which was edited by author of the much-hailed Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877, Eric Foner, to divide the colonial period up not by decade, but by colonizing forces. He roughly divides the era into the French, the British, and the Spanish. Because of ...more
Apr 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: colonial-america
Taylor has written an excellent and thorough account of the settlement of the the North American continent. He begins with the migration of peoples across the Bering Strait from Siberia around 15,000 years ago and their expansion southward into what is now the United States. When French, English, Spanish and Dutch colonists along with African slaves began arriving in the 16th and 17th centuries, all of these groups were forced to interact with each other. Taylor's account of the many relationshi ...more
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: colonial-history
A tour de force by Alan Taylor! The heavy tome might seem daunting at first, but Taylor puts us on a boat to the new world and successfully navigates us not only to Puritan New England, but Spanish South America, the Virginia Company, the middle Colonies, the West Indies, and the Pacific. In many ways, Taylor does not limit our scope. His work simultaneously reveals the colonization of the Americas, one of the first, if not the only work, I have come across to keep things in perspective. Taylor ...more
Faith Williams
Taylor has written an incredibly thorough and expansive survey of the settling of the North American continent. Don't be fooled by the cover; this book does not just focus on the 13 "American Colonies" that most think of when they hear the phrase. Taylor covers literally all of North American history and exploration to about 1820. He organizes his survey not by timeline but by subject and by geographical area. This can cause some confusion if you aren't paying close attention to the dates, but o ...more
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is not just about the original 13 colonies. It lays a groundwork of events and and motivations in Europe, Asia, and Africa that spawned exploration and discovery, and the need and/or desire to establish colonies in the new-found lands. It explores the native cultures encountered by the Europeans, and how each culture affected the other.

And then, it just keeps building on that through time and space. As noted in the title, this book is about American Colonies, and should not be confused
Mar 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Insightful would be the best term I could use for this title. One of the biggest insights for me was how the Caribbean came to be the precursor to the Carolinas. The author does have a tendency to repeat points in a general sense toward religious and human nature issues notwithstanding the chapter i.e. the colonial power be they Spanish, British, French, Russian, etc. That said, the points seem valid. I would definitely suggest this book to anybody wanting to learn about colonial North American ...more
Pete daPixie
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-u-s
Oh man! What a wonderful book. 13,000 B.C. to 1780 A.D. Part of the story of the settling of N. America involves the histories of Spain, England, France, Portugal, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Russia, Africa and S. America.
I just didn't want this story to end. Alan Taylor (2001) has produced a monumental piece of work here. The importance of N. America's native tribes goes hand in hand with the colonial struggles of the rival European empires.
"I think I'll call
May 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
What it says on the cover. Which ends up being an odd read (in a good way) -- this covers every colonial venture in North America, including the ones we tend to forget (Russia!), but excludes anything after a colony has turned into a nation. So you get the Eastern Seaboard up to 1776, but another half century for the west coast .. and you get the conquest of the Aztecs, but nothing on the Incas. Helpful to me to put various things I'd read in isolation in a shared context. The overarching metahi ...more
Dec 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
how to justify giving a survey five stars? even though the writing is never especially beautiful, it's never clumsy and it's not too repetitive. to me, that's a pretty big achievement. and the breadth and depth of the book is incredibly satisfying. taylor gives a nice contextual background to europe and north american before 1492, and then manages to cover the english, french, spanish, dutch, and even russian empires as well as dozens of native cultures. he shifts really easily between political ...more
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
A close look at American history before the United States. Most people are familiar with British, American, and even Spanish colonization. But we don't often get much information about the various Native American tribes and how they interacted with each other and with the colonizers. We also get a glimpse of others like the Dutch, Swedes, and Russians, as well as becoming more familiar with the colonization of Hawaii, Alaska, and Canada. This book is chock-full of detailed information. It's not ...more
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A very fine introduction to colonial North America. While the author's relentless PC is occasionally annoying - yes we understand that women couldn't vote and that there were slaves after the eighth or tenth time - his thorough and wide-ranging approach to how the various colonies were founded and developed gives the reader a complete picture, combining politics, economics, social conditions and how the colonies interacted with the Indians, the mother countries and each other. The book is very w ...more
Bryan Cebulski
Though Taylor takes on an intimidating amount of colonial American history, often sacrificing close study of historical figures and events for the sake of covering ground, he manages to make it smooth, readable and interesting. His emphasis on seeing colonialism through the eyes of First Nations' people, African slaves and indentured servants are certainly worthy reasons for reading this book. In general, Taylor carefully balances perspectives to give a more holistic view of colonial life in Nor ...more
Oliver Bateman
Feb 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
An excellent single volume history. Why assign a textbook for your US to 1865 class when you've got a wonderfully written teaching tool like this one? Taylor occasionally lapses into value judgments--the Spanish failed because of this, the English succeeded because of this, etc.--but for the most part keeps his narrative clear of teleological explanations and makes good use of much recent scholarship.
Jul 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
The colonial history of a continent as opposed to of the English colonisation. In other words, nicely rounded and preferential to any accounts in the tradition of Manifest Destiny. The vision of a segmented landmass along the lines of the French and Spanish spheres is not outside the realm of historical possibility.
Kathryn Walters
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I loved reading this for my Colonial North America class! It's incredibly readable, for a history book :) I liked how it paid significant attention to the role of Native Americans in the foundation of our country. I learned so much from this class, and this book bears some of the responsibility!
Estelle Champlain
Aug 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Taylor gives a general overview of Early Colonial America. This books is good for someone who wants to understand the basics but is not too interested in details. There are no footnotes, however the bibliography is extensive.
Feb 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-books
Best book for comps and for teaching.
Elizabeth Henry
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Unbiased history with fresh perspectives neither completely favoring or criminalizing the Europeans, the Natives, or the Africans. Thorough, thoughtful, challenging, & beautifully written.
Aug 07, 2008 rated it liked it
I'm reading this for my class. I'm hoping for some interesting anecdotes to sprinkle into my lectures on North American colonization. So far, it's pretty dry.
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned, history
A favorite reference for early american history, covers events and themes often missed in other histories of the period.
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic overview of colonial American history covering everything from the first peoples to all the European nations that had an impact in the land that would become the United States.
Molly Brodak
Jul 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Very nicely done. I found the chapters a bit too brief, though. But as an overview of 200 years of overlooked American history, excellent.
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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
More about Alan Taylor...

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The Penguin History of the United States (3 books)
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