"By Nathaniel Philbrick, Viking; $29.95
This myth-busting account of Plymouth Colony, from the planning and voyage of the Mayflower’s crossing in 1620 through the 14 bloody months of King Philip’s War (1675-1676), reveals the human stories behind the history. The title is perhaps deceptive, as the story focuses less on the Mayflower voyage and more on its legacy.
Mayflower documents the struggles faced by pilgrims and Puritans, from weather to Indians to themselves, both in their internal philosophic strife and as their children chose to pursue economic prosperity at the expense of the Indians, precipitating King Philip’s War. The first 50 years were a model of what America might have been, until their children’s greed destroyed the pilgrims’ vision of life.
Ultimately, this is the story of how the U.S. began and how the American identity was shaped — first by the Mayflower Compact, which foreshadowed American democracy; then half a century of peaceful co-existence, followed by a devastating war that wiped out a higher percentage of adult males than the Civil War and WWII combined and included the defeat and near-annihilation of the Pokanokets; and finally, the emergence from the war as a frontier society bent on purging the land of Indians by killing them or selling them into slavery, which, instead of eliminating the Indian threat, initiated a series of Indian wars for the next 100 years.
Nathaniel Philbrick attempts to distinguish romantic legend from actual events with as little bias as the available (predominantly Anglo) sources allow. It’s not perfect, but it is eminently readable.