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Berkin (History/Baruch Coll.) admits in her chatty preface that this book took her years longer to write than she originally intended, and the result was more than worth the wait. First Generations is a careful, detailed study of colonial life with something more—a personal touch, an easy narrative style, and a comprehensive approach. Not that this slim volume offers the last word on the subject. What it does provide is a vivid, sympathetic, fascinating introduction to a rich field demanding further study. Berkin reveals some of the realities of life for women in colonial America by focusing on a number of remarkable individuals both famous and unknown, among them Wetamo, a Wampanoag leader who fought mightily against the English colonists who invaded her home; Margaret Hardenbroeck, a successful Dutch businesswoman in New Amsterdam who lost her economic rights when the English conquered the colony in 1664; Mary Johnson, a captive African who eventually became a free and fairly prosperous farmer; and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, a member of South Carolina's aristocracy, who successfully ran her father's plantation in his absence when she was only 15 years old. These and other women form the foundation of Berkin's narrative, which goes on to illuminate how these individuals fit into the general patterns of colonial life. And while Berkin admits that the historical records favor some groups over others, she herself focuses her attention equally on all, while never appearing to sacrifice the integrity of the work for political correctness.
A wonderful introduction to this fascinating subject.