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Book Review: 'New World, Inc: The Making of America by England's Merchant Adventurers' by John Butman & Simon Target

We all know how the United States of America got going, right? Well this book tells you that everything you thought you knew about how a group of religious refugees who fled persecution at home in England to start a new life in the New World free of tyranny, was, in fact, wrong. Such is the potency of the myth making, and legend, the very essence of the American soul, that surrounded the establishment of the United States.

John Butnam and Simon Targett in their ‘New World, Inc’ do a very good job demystifying the grand rhetoric of American identity and get closer to the truth about the origins of the economic and commerce driven leviathan we know today.

Driven by hardship and hobbled by their reliance on wool as their principal product, and seventy years before the Pilgrims set sail, a group of English merchants were desperate to find some way to find new markets. England – a small, peripheral country off the north coast of Europe – was struggling with mounting economic and political instability, so these merchants decided to look overseas. At first, they looked East to China, then as now, a huge market for goods, but eventually they turned Westward. In looking for new markets and trading partners they helped establish new colonies and settlements – with trade, commerce, innovation and enterprise at its core.

In a way, that foundational story seems explicable if you step back and look at the United States today, with its vast global economy, its politics and public life dominated by a business CEO turned President, and its consumer-based culture dominated by corporate behemoths, where religion is by constitutional settlement separated from the state. Indeed, business is so intertwined with government and politics that sometimes it is difficult to discern where one starts and the other finishes.

Business, not religion, sits at the heart of the American Dream.

This is a beautifully presented and constructed book, with an arresting collection of colour pictures. It is fluently and elegantly written, and the reader is drawn from page to page, onwards through this fascinating story. In many ways it reads at times like a novel, but this is a serious piece of historical writing. Human interest and drama sit at the heart of this story, but it is also one of science, innovation, navigational daring, bravery, chance, and resilience. It is a story as exciting as it is revealing.

Simon Targett and John Butman are seasoned journalists. They have brought that experience to bear well here in a story that has much to interest Brexit Britain.

New World, Inc: The Making of America by England’s Merchant Adventurers John Butman & Simon Targett, Little Brown, $29 (US)

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