Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo
Making Haste From Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World by Nick Bunker. Alfred A. Knopf pub. 480pp. hardcover. $30. ISBN: 978-0-307-26682-8
Much excellent American history has been written by English historians in the last twenty five years and Nick Bunker’s Making Haste is one of the most engaging of its kind. The depth of research, wide scope of view of the subject and intertwining of related issues mark his work as a triumph of brilliance that brings to life not only the Pilgrims who sailed in Mayflower, but the Europe and America of the time.
Bunker begins his tale with the flash of a comet over Europe that caused great wonder and foreboding and inched the agonies of religious separtists further away from their homeland in the north central provinces of England. The British Isles of the 17th century was a troubled land beset by a failing economy and war. England was not a safe for the conscience stricken, who first fled to Holland only to discover that the Netherlands was no haven—and eventually to America, where they became the de facto employees of venture capitalists.
Every facet of the world those emigrants knew is illustrated in rich detail; better, it is interwoven by a master story teller who brings alive the times nearly four hundred years gone. Making Haste is a joy to read, even if you’re not a history fan.
Religion and politics went together in King James’ England. The Crown hated Separtists with a passion and the very word “Puritan” was a slur first used by Catholics to describe reactionary believers. There’s a delicious passage that tells of the first landing in Massachusetts where the texts consulted for allegorical explanation were in Hebrew, from the Old Testament—which gives the tempest tossed refugees a new light to reflect from; one that many of their apologists would rather forget. And it seems that among the first things some of those who landed did was cause an uproar among the Indians by desecrating a grave. There is much detail; all of it relevant and fascinating.
Making Haste will offer many uncommon insights to that first Ur-American boatload that ought to be compared to what one thinks they know. The past is never so simple as some want others to think it is and Bunker’s diligent research into Spanish, Dutch, French and British archives is exemplary for its thoroughness. Read this book soon.