Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Founding of New England - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1922

The Founding of New England
By: James Truslow Adams
The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1921

I wouldn't exactly call The Founding of New England a great read, but I did learn more about the founding of the New England colonies specifically than I ever did as a history major in college. For example, did you know that revisionist history is NOT a new thing? Adams' point in this book was that, contrary to popular belief, the New England colonies were not founded solely for religious freedom. He makes a very convincing argument for the fact that, for many of the colonists, economic gains motivated them more than the search for a place to worship freely.

A second major focus of Adams' in The Founding of New England was the belligerency of the Massachusetts colony. Adams compares the narrow view of the Massachusetts colony, who only sought their own gain and power, to the much broader view of the British empire, who had interests in colonies all over the world and had to keep each colony in check for the benefit of the entire empire. These are aspects of the early colonizing of New England that I either never learned or have no recollection of learning about.

This book can be a pretty dull read at times, but those who are interested in colonial history might learn something new and those who are interested in the thought processes of historians in the 1920s will definitely get some insight.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Daughter of the Middle Border - Winner, Biography, 1922

A Daughter of the Middle Border
By: Hamlin Garland
Macmillan, 1921

Hamlin Garland was a prolific writer in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1917 he published his autobiography, A Son of the Middle Border. It was widely acclaimed and led him to publish A Daughter of the Middle Border as its sequel. Both followed the lives of his parents and him as they lived and worked in the Midwest. Garland had a great urge to share with the "intellectuals" of the east what the Midwest was like.

A Daughter of the Middle Border follows Garland as he marries and his family grows. He describes how often he was torn between the family farm in the Midwest and "civilization" in the great metropolitan areas of the east. He and his wife often spent summers at the family farm and the rest of the year travelling between Chicago and New York, but as his family grew it became harder and harder to leave the simplicity of farm life and the love of grandparents. We see his family grow, but we also see the older generation, the generation of A Son of the Middle Border pass on.

It is interesting to see the early descriptions of the blooming Midwest and also Garland's descriptions of the west through his extensive travels. He writes of the wonder at seeing places that have never been touched by man. He has tremendous respect for the Native American and his ways. How amazing it must have been to travel through untouched and unspoiled nature. I fear there are few places left on earth that are quite like that.

This book wasn't the best book I have read so far, but it definitely wasn't the worst, either. It is only 200 pages long, so that helps. I couldn't figure out through the entire book if A Daughter of the Middle Border referred to his wife or daughter. In the end, it seems like it was supposed to be his wife, but she really only plays a background role in the whole thing. It is like he didn't want to name the book A Son of the Middle Border, Part 2, so he changed Son to Daughter.

A side note, I was looking on for a little information on Garland and found this: "Garland died at age seventy-nine, after moving to Hollywood, California, where he devoted his remaining years to investigating psychic phenomena..." That made me laugh.