Tuesday, September 05, 2006

NonFiction - White Savage

White Savage by Fintan O’Toole focuses on the life of William Johnson. Johnson is a native catholic Irishman who adopts Protestantism in order to escape repression and comes to America in the mid 1740s. He is sponsored by his uncle the great Sir Peter Warren (British Naval Admiral) to settle his land on the New York frontier. Johnson quickly establishes himself as a trader with an honorable reputation and fair-mindedness when dealing with the local Iroquois in the region. O’Toole illustrates how his catholic upbringing in Ireland (Ireland was under British rule) forced him to develop skills at compromising, negotiating, and adapting. These skills allowed him to be successful on the frontier. In fact by the mid 1750s Johnson was promoted to Superintendent for Indian Affairs for the colony of New York because of his ability to bridge cultural gaps between the British, colonists, and Iroquois. Johnson was able to court many Iroquois sachems (chiefs) to support the British interests in North America by adopting Iroquois traditions and ways. O’Toole illustrates how none of this is easy even for a charismatic individual such as Johnson. There were always political forces working against his vision, especially during the two French and Indian Wars of the 1740s and 1750s. He only really achieves his power after a successful military campaign in which he was more lucky than good. Overall the book is well researched and historically accurate. O’Toole also does an excellent job of demonstrating the complexities of European social and cultural issues and the role they played throughout William’s life. Couple those with his experiences with the Iroquois people and it is easy to see how intricate life on the American frontier in mid 18th century was. The only criticism I have of this particular book was the writing style of the author. Often O’Toole jumps from one topic to the next instead of telling the story straight through. He does this to give the reader a background for the continuation of the story of William’s life. But I often found myself flipping back to previous chapters in order to refresh my memory about what role a certain person played or how a particular experience shaped his perception, etc.


Eliza said...

Did you like the Mayflower better? Are there any other non-fiction books you could recommend for the same time period?

Bryan said...

I liked the time period of White Savage better than the time period of the Mayflower as it takes place in the 1750s instead of the 1650s. With that said I did like the writing style of Nathan Philbrick better than Fintan O'Toole. I am currently reading the Divided Ground by Alan Taylor and it is very similar.