R.B. Bernstein reviews Bernard Bailyn's most recent book, The Barbarous Years, at the Daily Beast. Though I have not yet had a chance to read the book, R.B. does a fabulous job of conveying the harrowing subject matter -- just how precarious life was in the seventeenth century colonies. Perhaps because my mind is bent towards some of the most harrowing parts of life in the antebellum U.S. these days (for example here), one might add that the barbarity continued in some ways for decades into our life as a nation.
What's particularly interesting to me is how different in subject Bailyn's current project is from the optimistic world of ideas that made our Revolution. I look forward to reading this book and to thinking about how its subject is connected to -- and perhaps inspired -- the optimism of the colonists at the end of the eighteenth century.
Update as of February 2: Here is Daniel Richter's review from Harvard Magazine. Richter is one of the most popular and distinguished historians of colonial America right now. His extensive work is in Native Americans, so it comes as no surprise that he wishes Bailyn had done more with Natives in the book -- and in paritcular with Natives as actors, rather than as people at the margins of the story, who may sometimes be the victims of extraordinary violence.
Of course given my own interests these days, it will come as no surprise that I continue to see a real value in a story that's focused on the intellectual, economic, and social history of the oppressors. I've thought a lot about -- and have received some criticism, perhaps less than I deserve -- for having a story focused on the slave-owning class. But my history is trying to reconstruct a particular world; that world was built upon labor of enslaved people and the enslaved people were the subject of intense scrutiny. Still, the world I am reconstructing is that of the people who did the enslaving. Nat Turner sets the entire book in motion, but then enslaved people as actors largely disappear (other than in a short interstitial section devoted to the anti-slavery critique). I'm hoping to talk some more about the reasons why agency of the enslaved people (to use a popular phrase) is not more central to my story.