Mr. Bailyn is at his best writing about New England—familiar terrain—and recounting the travails and then rapid growth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony after 1620. This section could stand on its own as a short book on the subject: The author colorfully portrays the Puritan leaders, their propensity for schism and the relentless struggles between doctrinal compromisers and the pure of heart. Puritans eagerly resorted to flogging, dismembering and burning their opponents. These were barbarous years indeed.
Throughout the book, Mr. Bailyn patiently explains the origins of the people who migrated to America. Readers learn which regions of England, the Netherlands and Scandinavia produced the most migrants, which social classes were best represented, and the extent to which young males predominated within various migrant flows.