Review – Savage Kingdom

Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America

By Benjamin Woolley

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 978006009056-2

3 stars

Savage Kingdom is a recounting of the settlement of Jamestown, in particular, the people who led the enterprise and took on the challenge of settling a land they knew nothing about.  It follows their journey in a landscape completely alien to them with inhabitants they can’t control, and in the end, threaten to destroy.

The book is very broad in its scope.  It covers the goings on in England, John Smith’s explorations into Native American territories, the Jamestown settlement, the settlements in New England, the Spanish, Spanish America, and the monarchy’s involvement and interest in the Jamestown settlement.  Sometimes I felt it was too inclusive.  It wasn’t narrowed down and was more like a semester lecture and general overview of the world at the time instead of being sharply focused on the settlement.

I did enjoy the Native American interactions with the settlers though.  John Smith’s adventures, trading, crowing of Powhatan, fighting, etc. provided interesting insights into how and where it all failed; it’s more than just a general misunderstanding brought about by a language barrier.  Englishman with no ability to survive in the wilderness and with very meager survival skills were expecting the Native American tribes to feed them and became dumbfounded when it didn’t happen.  They were so arrogant in assuming the land was theirs for the taking and truly believed someone would care for them.

Savage Kingdom was a frustrating book for me because you see all the faults and in many ways the problems inherent in the system.  I wanted to really enjoy this book but I didn’t and I think it was due to the fact that I read another book on the subject last year and I felt I had already read some of this.  It doesn’t make it bad, just not for me.  It was well researched but I couldn’t get into it.


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