Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographical History Of North America

A Brief Political And Geographical History Of North America:  Where Are…New France, New Netherland, And New Sweden, by Lissa Johnston

I am no stranger to this series [1], and to put it mildly, the quality of the series as a whole has been pretty uneven.  Fortunately, this book is definitely on the better end of the range that this book shows as a whole.  In pondering a series like this, I often wonder what sort of sign of quality a series has and how one can be sure of what kind of book one is getting when one reads part of it.  With this series one cannot tell whether a book will be an enjoyable if selective read, or whether it will be of dubious quality or even basically worthless as a historical and geographical text.  That variation in quality is something that the people who organize this series should probably work on, most likely by improving the weaker volumes in the series and getting all of them up to a high standard that allows for a reader to know that what they are getting is a consistently good book.  At least this book was a positive surprise, though, rather than a negative one.

Rather strikingly, this book is organized around the “Where is…” questions of its subtitle to a remarkable degree.  Given the absence of major native civilizations (there is, sadly, no discussion here of Cahoika) in North America, the book is organized instead around the colonial rivalry in the Mid-Atlantic states and, to a remarkable degree, Canada’s own struggle for identity in contrast to their bumptious neighbor to the south.  The eight chapters of this book along with the usual timeline, notes, and suggestion for further reading as well as glossary and index total a bit more than 100 pages.  The eight chapters are organized as follows:  Beads and hatchets (a look at the purchase of Manhattan Island by the Dutch), New France 1534-1763, New Netherland 1624-1664, New Sweden 1638-1655, Canada 1763-1867, Canada 1867-Present, and two chapters on the United States, from 1663 to 1783 and from 1783 to today.  While the account is necessarily superficial, I was pleased that the author managed to discuss North America within its colonial context while also commenting on the importance of native tribes when it came to the fur trade.

Despite the fact that I thought the book was, on the whole, a very good one, I was a bit puzzled by the selective nature of the book.  A book of 100 pages cannot be expected to cover either American or Canadian history from the colonial period to today with any kind of depth, but I was a bit puzzled by what was left out.  The author seemed particularly focused on the importance of New York and the area down to about Philadelphia and Wilmington or so and largely ignored everything else including New England, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, to say nothing of Spanish Florida or the settlement of Utah and Oregon country.  The book could have discussed the early colonies of these areas and even discussed the Caribbean a bit had the author been a bit laser-focused on New York City.  That is not to say that this book is annoying or irritating at all, even if NYC is not my favorite place to read about or an area I care particularly much about as a student of geography of history, but it was interesting to see the way that the author selected such areas to focus on as Canadian identity and NYC given the fact that she had so much space and time to work with.  What people choose to focus on is curious indeed.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographical History Of North America

  1. Pingback: How To Become An Atlantic Historian Without Really Trying | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s