This may be one of those books that everyone has claimed to have read but few actually have. And I didn’t read it all either. By the time I was finished with the full description of the four main groups who emigrated to America from England/Scotland/Ireland, there was still the “conclusions” section of the book at the end which was a quite extended epilogue of sorts. I just couldn’t do it.
But I did read through the hundreds of pages regarding the four main groups (in order of their emigration), which were the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay area, the Anglican aristocrats in and around Chesapeake Bay, the Quakers in and around the Delaware River, and finally the Scots-Irish-North Englanders who settled in the backcountry.
There is far more information presented in Albion’s Seed than you’ll likely want to know. Thankfully, descriptions of each of the four groups is split into subchapters. If minute information on the style of dress of the Quakers doesn’t interest you, you can skip ahead to their styles of architecture, for example.
Each cultural “way” is described for all four groups include their food ways, housing way, language way, marriage ways, sex ways, religious ways, their belief in regards to freedom, their family ways, etc. I found most of it to be interesting but did tend to skip ahead a bit every once in a while. It is that kind of book.
And I wish this book did give me a seminal understanding of America. It did indeed give me some understanding of the people who first settled America. But the author draws few parallels with modern-day America. This book is somewhat impoverished because of that. I was hoping for a lot of “Oh, so that’s why we do that this way now.”
But you do get a bit of that as Fischer has a subchapter on words that were unique to each group. And I give my tip of the cap to the Quakers for having some of the best words….many of which I had never heard before (and have gone out of style) but are so pleasantly whimsical that we really should bring them back. And one of my favorites was the Scots-Irish word, “bumfuzzled,” which means “confused.” And if some of you in the Appalachian region still use that word, then it’s news to me.
But as how these various early traits show up in our present culture, this book is deficient in making that connection. But if you want to learn in enormous detail how those four immigrant groups lived, this is the book for you.
I read Albion’s Seed for the purposes of obtaining a kind of “deep background” understanding of America. And that is how I recommend this book. But I’m not sure what deep insights I’ve gained from it other than that some of the stupid shit that we quibble over in our times as some supposed gross offense on liberty wouldn’t even be on the radar for any of these groups except perhaps the anarchy-oriented Scots-Irish-North-English.
My general impressions of these four groups are that the Puritans do not quite fit the popular image we have for them. Actually, in many ways, they were pretty cool and ordinary people. And certainly I would want to live amongst them before coming within a country mile of the dirty, backward, and violent Scots-Irish. But even so, the Puritans are a little constraining for my taste.
The Anglican oligarchies of the Chesapeake Bay area hold little appeal. Aside from Washington, Jefferson, George Mason, Madison, and a few others, this really was a quite un-American (to modern ears) way of being. And most of the oligarchy were various shades of despicable. And this society was hardly what we have come to think of as egalitarian America. You were either one of the arrogant elite or you were a dirt poor farmer who most likely didn’t even own the land that you farmed. You stayed in the station that you were born into. It was a stratified society, and quite even before the introduction of African slaves. These were people that we would see today as being walking caricatures of pompous asses.
I’d already mentioned the Scots-Irish. The author is pleased to allow you to draw your own conclusions about this backcountry culture. He merely describes and doesn’t judge. But few of the “ways” or cultural attributes of these people are pleasant. Many are barbaric or, at best, dirty and primitive.
That leaves the Quakers. And although we might see the makings of modern libtard Christians in some of their beliefs, the Quakers were generally people who desired to live a good life and to become good people. They were fair and mild. Yes, by today’s standards (and even by the Puritan standards of their day) they were pretty suffocating in some of their religious beliefs. And they weren’t above bloodying a few noses in regards to law-and-order, although the popular perception of them today is probably as complete pacifists (that came later). But they were by far the closest in makeup — in both their attitudes to industry and to freedom — to what me might recognize as normal and desirable today. I had affection for the Puritans, but I ended up quite liking the early Quakers (the later ones truly did become a bunch of libtard peaceniks).
All in all, Albion’s Seed does give you a good look at how these four different immigrant groups lived and where they got their traits. These traits came almost completely intact and unchanged from the various regions of their origin. But I have to say, the book did not give me any great insights on the makeup of Americans today. But perhaps that is just a quibble.