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Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent

Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent

by Ted Morgan

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this ``collective biography of ordinary Americans,'' Morgan ( FDR ) offers an involving, if a bit disjointed, popular history of North America to the end of the 18th century. He draws on memoirs, journals and academic studies for his colloquial, panoramic narrative; his anecdotes mainly eschew the famous for intriguing characters like William Fitzhugh, who in 1674 built a 13-room house, complete with Turkish carpets, on Virginia's ``gentrified'' northern frontier. As Morgan covers the advances of the European powers and the formation of the United States, he does not ignore the many depredations of the powerful. But the French-born author is, above all, an American enthusiast, and he concludes by celebrating the emerging nation's egalitarianism and ``spirit of enterprise.'' Sometimes, however, Morgan's search for relevance--as when he links colonial tobacco propaganda to 20th-century ads for ``Marlboro Country''--seems strained, and he makes few attempts to apprise the reader of ongoing debates about historical interpretation. BOMC main selection; History Book Club and QPB alternates. (May)
Library Journal
Morgan, the biographer of Klaus Barbie ( An Uncertain Hour , LJ 12/89), Franklin Roosevelt ( FDR , LJ 11/1/85), and others, here turns his attention to the settlement of the frontier. Drawing on diaries, journals, letters, and similar sources, he begins with the first people to cross the Bering land bridge about 15,000 years ago, continues with the story of the European settlement of those colonies that played the most significant roles in the struggle among Spain, France, and Britain for control of the continent, and concludes by surveying the Western lands in the decades following the American Revolution. He tells a good story, emphasizing the ordinary people who did the actual settlement, but does not provide the analysis needed by specialists. The account is comprehensive for the years up to 1630. While it gets sidetracked for the period after that, this book is recommended for undergraduate and public libraries as a useful survey of the colonial frontier.-- Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette
Gilbert Taylor
Morgan's rendering of the frontier story follows school-lesson routes to rewrite the stories of the John Smiths, William Bradfords, William Penns, Hernando de Sotos, and Samuel de Champlains. These "greats" here get their due, but Morgan's favored protagonists are somewhat obscure figures who were equally influential. There's Eliza Lucas of early 1700s South Carolina, for instance. Similar to John Rolfe's cultivation of tobacco in the formative days of the Virginia colony, she introduced the cash crop of indigo and its slave-based plantation economy. Morgan represents several wars against Indians, such as the Pequot War in Connecticut in 1637, by offering stories of individual settlers or woodsmen. Morgan audaciously covers time and space from the Bering Strait land bridge to Spanish St. Augustine to the fledgling United States' ordering of the wilderness--the town-and-range system that grids real estate to this day. That Morgan maintains interest despite such breadth is due to a well-tuned tension between the familiar and the novel, and it portends a best-borrower in public libraries. The planned sequel, on the nineteenth century, should be eagerly anticipated.

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Simon & Schuster
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