A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America is a book that I picked up on a whim about two or three years ago during the going-out-of-business sale at our local Borders. Jamestown is not necessarily a topic that I’m totally crazy about – in general early British colonization is not really my thing when it comes to reading for pleasure. But it was like, 75% off, and it is a topic I have to teach about every year, so I figured “why not?”
Since then I’ve tried picking it up several times, only to get about 15 pages in before I put it down and moved on to something else – it just could not seem to hold my attention… at least until this summer.
Now, I’m not one to allow a book to “defeat” me (Jane Erye and Wuthering Heights being the two exceptions – I just really DO NOT LIKE the Bronte sisters, I guess…). No matter how much a book bores me or disappoints me, once I start it, I’m compelled to finish it. I can’t just let it go for whatever reason. And so each time I put this book down I kept telling myself that it wasn’t that I just couldn’t get into the book EVER – I just wasn’t in the right mood for the material at that moment. I WOULD finish it. Someday.
As it turns out, this time, I was right. Because I picked it up for another try this summer as I was redoing my lectures for the fall semester, and not only did I make it past the 15 page mark, once I got into it I just couldn’t stop. I guess after a few weeks of lecture writing on Colonial English North America I was just in a Jamestown frame of mind (side note – apparently that’s a thing?).
Overall, once I got over the hurdle of officially starting it, this book was not only informative, but fascinating as well. Horn puts forward not only a great deal of insight into the political maneuverings of both the Powhatans and the English (the Powhatan side of things is one I greatly enjoyed hearing about, as you don’t hear it often in our so often European-centric view of things), but also some interesting hypotheses on the ultimate fate of the lost Roanoke Colony.
That said, there are some moments when his eagerness sort of gets the better of him – he’ll occasionally just start name-dropping without properly explaining who the person is. Eventually you sort of figure it out, but it can be disorienting at times. Additionally, his overall theses don’t really become terribly apparent until the very end, when he sort of recaps with them as framing ideas – it would have been nice to have those ideas earlier to help facilitate a better grasp of context and relevance for a lot of the storytelling that he does throughout.
So this one has it’s positives and its negatives, but as a whole, it’s a read I very much enjoyed, and got a lot from in the long run. My rating? 8/10, would recommend.