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Book review: Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

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Mayflower by Nathaniel PhilbrickMy dad – bless his heart – taught me that you should always read a history book loosely related to where you’re going when you’re on vacation. So early on in my history class I read this book, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick, because my dad took a trip to Boston, Massachusetts.

Know before you read

The author is from Boston and is a sailor. I need to read more sailing/naval/boat and water books. I only have a vague idea what all that vocabulary means. He also was a freelance writer for years and has degrees in English, not History. Does that make him an ‘armchair historian’? I don’t know. I don’t really care.

Just based on the title, you would assume this book is about the Pilgrims arriving in America, but it really covers a lot more than that. You’ll learn about how they survived that first winter, King Philip’s War, and a lot more history about the founding of the Plymouth Colony.

This is what I wish all history books were like – an engaging narrative about often overlooked details of history. Is that too much to ask?

The Mayflower

This history opens with a detailed description of the Pilgrims on the actual ship, that really sets the scene for what these poor people had gotten themselves in for – “They were nearly ten weeks into a voyage that was supposed to have been completed during the balmy days of summer. But they had started late, and it was now November, and winter was coming on. They had long since run out of firewood, and they were reaching the slimy bottoms of their water casks” (24). Since I grew up in Southern California, all this New England history is so different and so interesting to me.

Philbrick does a great job of walking that fine line between praising and condemning the actions of both the Pilgrims and the native Americans – neither were blameless, of course. You’ll learn about the non-religious members of the group (‘Strangers’) and the intricate alliances between the native groups and the English. You’ll learn about how the Pilgrims managed to (barely) survive their first winter and about the Mayflower Compact.

I really enjoyed Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick – even if I didn’t go to Boston to read it. This is one of the (very) few history books that I would actually re-read just for pleasure. I am definitely on board as a Philbrick fan and have *just* requested his newest book from the library.

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