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Philbrick’s book is aptly titled: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. Of course, nearly every American is familiar with the story of the Mayflower. My, what a story of courage and community! It is a story drilled into the heads of American kindergartners every November, followed by the creation of feathered headpieces forged of construction paper and Elmer’s glue. We all learn that the brave Pilgrims sailed to the New World, and made friends with the Native Americans, who helped them grow food! And to show their appreciation the Pilgrims threw a wonderful turkey dinner! And they all lived happily ever after! The end.
What an inspiring story on which to base the remainder of a student’s American history education! But…wasn’t there a third word? Courage, community, and … war? Where did that come from? We all learn in elementary school that they live happily ever after!
The story of the Mayflower does not end with “The First Thanksgiving.” This third word, war, is the part of the story nobody can ever remember, yet it is the part of the story that is most important to remember.
Philbrick’s novel reminds those who read it of this story, and what happens when ideals are forgotten. Our Pilgrims, in search of worship without persecution, end up persecuting another race.
From the front, this book is a beautifully told story; a testament to Philbrick’s literary education and awards. It draws you into the history with all of the details you find in a historical fiction novel…just…minus the fiction. In the back (literally), this book has a spine of research that is able to contend with the best scholarly report. While Philbrick has no degree in American History, you certainly wouldn’t know it from his bibliography! With excellent use of primary sources, this book is as well researched as it is well worded. There are even pictures of some of the documents used by Philbrick printed in the book itself. It also draws also on many highly reputable secondary historical sources and publications, both modern and contemporary. Philbrick must have worn out the doors of the Massachusetts Historical Society with his goings in and out!
As well researched as this book is, it must be kept in mind that, while the English kept meticulous records, and left quite a paper trail, the Native Americans did not. It is likely that we are seeing the Native Americans through the lens of the English, as we are using the English sources primarily. This, naturally, could lead to any opinions the English had of the Native Americans to bleed through into the book as bias. Even with this, I believe that Philbrick is still able to give us a reasonably accurate account of the events at hand.
Mayflower is important, because it shows us the truth behind our American legend, and what happens when ideals are forgotten.
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