World History Connected Home    
Home List journal issues Table of contents
Printer-friendly format        

Book Review


Hoffer, Peter Charles. The Brave New World: A History of Early America, Second Edition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). 518 pp, $25.00.

     Life in the New World was as difficult and varied as one can imagine. Peter Charles Hoffer presents a comprehensive picture of that life from many diverse perspectives in his book, The Brave New World: A History of Early America. He takes us beyond the usual U.S. History course treatment of the topic of colonial America, and allows us to see it in a realistic setting. The story that he presents depicts the settling of the New World by Europeans, who over time "mature" into Americans.

     The book is divided into two parts. The first deals with early colonization of the Americas to approximately 1700. In this section labeled "Worlds in Motion," he introduces us to the first Americans, describing the land and environment as well as the cultures of nomads, farmers and urban dwelling groups throughout North and South America. He dispels the many stereotypes of the "primitive savage," when describing the extensive trade systems and intricate cultures of these peoples. He goes on to present the complicated world of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, explaining carefully the dynamics and rivalries of the various nations that will become players in the New World. This is followed by an extensive description of the Spanish Empire in the New World, followed by a description of the exploration and settlement of England and France. He not only presents the personalities of the explorers, but also discusses the economic activities of the various countries and their interactions with each other as well as with the indigenous peoples. He finishes the section by carefully describing the founding, settlement and interactions of the Planter Colonies, the New England Colonies, and the Middle Colonies.

     The discussion of the thirteen original English colonies is interesting, as the author takes each one and discusses the circumstances that led to its founding. The anecdotes about such people as Ann Hutchinson and John Wintrop and events such as the Salem Witch Trails make for compelling reading. He includes some rich detail on the differing practices of slavery in the colonies as well. The reader becomes involved in the intricacies of the various colonies, and comes to see how they developed uniquely.

     The second part of the text is titled "From Provinces to a New Nation," and it describes the time from about 1700 through the American War for Independence and the establishment of a constitutional government in 1783. Professor Hoffer uses a shift in European attitudes toward the colonies, from delegating authority to proprietors to direct administrative supervision as his demarcation point. This led to stronger economic ties to the mother country, but also increased tensions between them. He sees this as a time of maturation of the colonies that would eventually lead them to independence.

     To make this point, there follows in the second section a detailed presentation of the life of colonists in the 18th century. The developing "American" culture helps fuel the strains between mother country and colony. In addition, Hoffer details the policies and practices of mercantilism and the rich economic life of the colonies. The final sections of this part discuss the French and Indian War and the War of Independence, ending in the emergence of the nation of the United State of America.

     I found this to be an interesting and engaging book about American colonial life. I enjoyed the analysis that the author presented to explain the intricacies of the period.

     While this would be a much too detailed read for a high school or college survey course, it would be a useful text for a specialized course in Colonial America for undergraduates, graduate students or advanced high school level students. The text is complete and balanced, so that while the author presents his thesis of the maturation of the Americas, he does so without a strong bias.

     This book would be of interest to World Historians because of its inclusive nature. The American colonial period, both North and South, is presented in a global context, including the picture of Europe at the time, the inclusion of all of the Americas, the rich discussion of slavery and other labor systems of the time, and the interaction of nations in this location. This is a valuable book for historians of any specialty.


Mary G. Saracino
Brewster High School


Home | List Journal Issues | Table of Contents
© 2008 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Content in World History Connected is intended for personal, noncommercial use only. You may not reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, modify, create derivative works from, display, or in any way exploit the World History Connected database in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Terms and Conditions of Use