Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
Audiobook narrated by George Guidall
Penguin Books (2006)
Genre: Nonfiction, history
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I’m not likely to go back to this one.
Reviewed by Pete
Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower covers one of the most significant moments in American history. I was surprised to learn that my mythological idea of the first Thanksgiving and the Plymouth Rock landing weren’t terribly far from the truth.
According to historical accounts, there was a celebration between Native Americans and the pilgrims in which turkeys were served. There was often peace, friendship, and love between the two peoples. But there was also a lot of killing.
I don’t read nearly as much historical nonfiction as I should. I could probably count the ones I’ve read on one hand. While I enjoyed Mayflower, it was mostly a recounting of events supported by historical documents and firsthand accounts—there was very little reflection or deep analysis.
The result is something enjoyable and exciting, but it didn’t leave me with a lot to think about.
The first third of the book was by far the most interesting to me. The Puritans’ escape from Europe was filled with conspiracy, manipulation, and deep setbacks as their plans fell through again and again because of the greed of others.
After they finally set sail, the book goes from a story of conspiracies and intrigue to one of family, survival, and adventure. Philbrick’s images, many of which stem from the quotes in the diaries of the pilgrims, are vivid and harrowing as the Mayflower battles through the dangerous waters of the Atlantic, racing to reach America before the cold winter set in.
It did not take long for the pilgrims to encounter Native Americans (whom Philbrick surprisingly refers to as “Indians” for the entire book). With both sides being frightened of the other, there were some initial skirmishes, but trading, friendship, and alliances soon bloomed as the pilgrims began building their settlement.
From this point on, the pilgrim’s relationship with the Wampanoag Native Americans is unstable. As more settlers arrive from England, the Native Americans of the Northeast become divided as many of them unite against the settlers while others support the British.
Philbrick’s retelling of King Philip’s war is a bit dry. The last 40 percent of the book feels like a long string of action sequences. While many of them are suspenseful and detailed, they began to blend together as the audiobook carried on, and I became lost in the sea of flintlock rifles and village raids.
I would have preferred a deeper look into the lives and struggles of the pilgrims, with less emphasis on the terrible conflict that followed the initial settlement. Many of the stories of peace between pilgrims and Native Americans were touching and astonishing. I was surprised to learn how eagerly the Wampanoags sought peace and cooperation with the pilgrims.
While Mayflower is an impressive collection of historical details and facts, Philbrick does not give the reader much reflection or dissection of the events of this incredible period of American history.
A side note: I listened to the audiobook version. I didn’t realize this book had cool pictures to go along with it. This might have increased my enjoyment slightly.