‘Away Off Shore’ by Nathaniel Philbrick

May 5, 2014 at 12:00 am 2 comments

away-off-shoreWell, guys, I’m moving to Nantucket! It’s a rather sudden, but exciting new chapter and, to prepare myself, I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890. Increasingly, I’m a fan of microhistory, where some very specific aspect of history (or small place) is explored in great detail, zooming in as far as the historic microscope will allow.

Philbrick’s book is a terrific entry into this genre. Nantucket, just 30 miles off the coast of the mainland Massachusetts, is rarely included in surveys of early American history (or the subsequent periods of colonial, Revolutionary, antebellum, and so on). As Philbrick proves in his highly entertaining and anecdotal book, this is a shameful hole in American history. Nantucket is a fascinating tale and, in many instances, a microcosm of America’s broader history. Themes familiar to anyone who took high school US history resurface in miniature, from religious tolerance to commerce to race to immigration. Nantucket provides the history of our country, all in one concentrated place.

And, of course, the island also has its own quirks and personalities, which just make the story all the more enjoyable. Philbrick has a gift for bringing the individuals of Nantucket’s varied history to life, focusing his energies on just the right person as the right moment to illustrate each phase of the island’s life.

Away Off Shore is the perfect introduction to Nantucket’s history and one light enough to read on holiday to that tourist haven (or en route before you arrive, as I did!). The only thing is leaves you wanting is more, so here’s hoping Mr. Philbrick is working on a sequel.

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Entry filed under: Non-fiction. Tags: , .

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