What is America: A Short History of the New World Order is Ronald Wright’s third historical text, following in the footsteps of Stolen Continents, a historical account of the conquest of the Americas and A Short History of Progress, the book based on Wright’s 2005 Massey Lectures series. Both of these texts have been not only widely acclaimed, but used as textbooks for university courses on anthropology and political science. Wright’s newest endeavour seems destined to attain similar academic and popular acclaim.
With his trademark ability to take an overwhelming amount of historical data and draw out the most salient and entertaining passages, Wright takes us chronologically through the “founding” of the Americas, not only from the viewpoint of the new occupants, but also from the perspective of the original occupants (as much as possible given the oral nature of First Nations historical accounts).
In doing so, Wright debunks some stereotypes and myths about Europe’s first encounter with the new world and of the people who were already here. One of these myths, that the current North America was populated by unruly savages who were easily tamed by the more civilized European invaders, is thoroughly and unequivocally taken apart and revealed in a very different light. Wright’s version of historic events shows the European conquerors to be simply the unwitting agents of a series of unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on how you look at it) accidents. These mainly took the form of European diseases that decimated the populations of the original inhabitants of this continent, thus clearing the way for Europeans to wipe out, enslave or drive off those who remained. Rather than the stoic heroes of primary school social studies books, Wright introduces us to a cast of characters who stumbled upon a new land by chance and proceeded to take advantage of its populace.
If history is doomed to repeat itself and we can’t truly understand where we’re going until we understand where we’ve been, Wright’s newest book is a primer for the future of the Western world. Impeccably researched and written with Wright’s trademark gift for free-flowing narrative, What is America is as readable as it is informative.
It has been said that history is written by the winners. This book shows us what history might have looked like if had it been recorded by the other side. This is a book that everyone should read to fill in the gaps in most social studies curriculums. What most North Americans don’t know about their own nation’s history could fill a book. This is that book.