Champlain's Dream

Champlain's Dream

by David Hackett Fischer


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Winner of the Pritzker Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing

In this sweeping, enthralling biography, acclaimed historian David Hackett Fischer brings to life the remarkable Samuel de Champlain—soldier, spy, master mariner, explorer, cartographer, artist, and Father of New France.

Born on France's Atlantic coast, Champlain grew to manhood in a country riven by religious warfare. The historical record is unclear on whether Champlain was baptized Protestant or Catholic, but he fought in France's religious wars for the man who would become Henri IV, one of France's greatest kings, and like Henri, he was religiously tolerant in an age of murderous sectarianism. Champlain was also a brilliant navigator. He went to sea as a boy and over time acquired the skills that allowed him to make twenty-seven Atlantic crossings without losing a ship.

But we remember Champlain mainly as a great explorer. On foot and by ship and canoe, he traveled through what are now six Canadian provinces and five American states. Over more than thirty years he founded, colonized, and administered French settlements in North America. Sailing frequently between France and Canada, he maneuvered through court intrigue in Paris and negotiated among more than a dozen Indian nations in North America to establish New France. Champlain had early support from Henri IV and later Louis XIII, but the Queen Regent Marie de Medici and Cardinal Richelieu opposed his efforts. Despite much resistance and many defeats, Champlain, by his astonishing dedication and stamina, finally established France's New World colony. He tried constantly to maintain peace among Indian nations that were sometimes at war with one another, but when he had to, he took up arms and forcefully imposed a new balance of power, proving himself a formidable strategist and warrior.

Throughout his three decades in North America, Champlain remained committed to a remarkable vision, a Grand Design for France's colony. He encouraged intermarriage among the French colonists and the natives, and he insisted on tolerance for Protestants. He was a visionary leader, especially when compared to his English and Spanish contemporaries—a man who dreamed of humanity and peace in a world of cruelty and violence.

This superb biography, the first in decades, is as dramatic and exciting as the life it portrays. Deeply researched, it is illustrated throughout with many contemporary images and maps, including several drawn by Champlain himself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416593331
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 10/06/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 848
Sales rank: 354,316
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.58(d)

About the Author

David Hackett Fischer, University Professor at Brandeis University, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for Washington’s Crossing, which was also a New York Times bestseller. His other acclaimed books include Albion’s Seed and Paul Revere’s Ride.


Wayland, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

December 2, 1935

Place of Birth:

Baltimore, Maryland


A.B., Princeton University, 1958; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1962

Read an Excerpt

In Search of Champlain

His activities, which were revealed mainly through his writings, were always surrounded by a certain degree of mystery. — Raymonde Litalien, 2004

An old French engraving survives from the early seventeenth century. It is a battle-print, at first glance like many others in European print shops. We look again, and discover that it shows a battle in North America, fought between Indian nations four centuries ago. The caption reads in old French, "Deffaite des Yroquois au Lac de Champlain," the "Defeat of the Iroquois at Lake Champlain," July 30, 1609.

On one side we see sixty Huron, Algonquin, and Montagnais warriors. On the other are two hundred Iroquois of the Mohawk nation. They meet in an open field beside the lake. The smaller force is attacking boldly, though outnumbered three to one. The Mohawk have sallied from a log fort to meet them. By reputation they are among the most formidable warriors in North America. They have the advantage of numbers and position, and yet the caption tells us that the smaller force won the fight.

The print offers an explanation in the presence of a small figure who stands alone at the center of the battle. His dress reveals that he is a French soldier and a man of rank. He wears half-armor of high quality: a well-fitted cuirass on his upper body, and protective britches of the latest design with light steel plates on his thighs. His helmet is no ordinary morion, or crude iron pot of the kind that we associate with Spanish conquistadors and English colonists. It is an elegant example of what the French call a casque bourgignon, a Burgundian helmet of distinctive design that was the choice of kings and noblemen — a handsome, high-crowned helmet with a comb and helm forged from a single piece of metal. Above the helmet is a large plume of white feathers called a panache — the origin of our modern word. Its color identifies the wearer as a captain in the service of Henri IV, first Bourbon king of France. Its size marks it as a badge of courage worn to make its wearer visible in battle.

This French captain is not a big man. Even with his panache, the Indians appear half a head taller. But he has a striking presence, and in the middle of a wild mêlée he stands still and quiet, firmly in command of himself. His back is straight as a ramrod. His muscular legs are splayed apart and firmly planted to bear the weight of a weapon which he holds at full length. It is not a conventional matchlock, as historians have written, but a complex and very costly arquebuse à rouet, a wheel-lock arquebus. It was the first self-igniting shoulder weapon that did not require a burning match, and could fire as many as four balls in a single shot.

The text with this engraving tells us that the French captain has already fired his arquebus and brought down two Mohawk chiefs and a third warrior, who lie on the ground before him. He aims his weapon at a fourth Mohawk, and we see the captain fire again in a cloud of white smoke. On the far side of the battlefield, half-hidden in the American forest, two French arquebusiers emerge from the trees. They kneel and fire their weapons into the flank of the dense Iroquois formation.

We look back at the French captain and catch a glimpse of his face. He has a high forehead, arched brows, eyes set wide apart, a straight nose turned up at the tip, a fashionable mustache, and a beard trimmed like that of his king, Henri IV. The key below the print gives us his name, the "sieur de Champlain."

This small image is the only authentic likeness of Samuel de Champlain that is known to survive from his own time. It is also a self-portrait, and its technique tells us other things about the man who drew it. A French scholar observes that "its style is that of a man of action, direct, natural, naive, biased toward exact description, toward the concrete and the useful." This is art without a hint of artifice. It tells a story in a straightforward way. At the same time, it expresses the artist's pride in his acts, and confidence in his purposes. It also points up a paradox in what we know about him. It describes his actions in detail, but the man himself is covered in armor, and his face is partly hidden by his own hand.

Other images of Champlain would be invented after the fact. Many years later, when he was recognized as the father of New France, he was thought to require a proper portrait. Artists and sculptors were quick to supply a growing market. Few faces in modern history have been reinvented so often and from so little evidence. All these images are fictions. The most widely reproduced was a fraud, detected many years ago and still used more frequently than any other.

Historians also contributed many word-portraits of Champlain, and no two are alike. His biographer Morris Bishop asserted from little evidence that "Champlain was, in fact, a lean ascetic type, dry and dark, probably rather under than over normal size...his southern origin is indication enough of dark hair and black eyes." Another biographer, Samuel Eliot Morison, wrote from no evidence whatever: "As one who has lived with Champlain for many years, I may be permitted to give my own idea of him. A well-built man of medium stature, blond and bearded, a natural leader who inspired loyalty and commanded obedience." A third author, Heather Hudak, represented him with bright red hair, a black panache and chartreuse britches. Playwright Michael Hollingsworth described Champlain as prematurely gray, as well he might have been, and an anonymous engraver gave him snow-white hair. Champlain's biographies, like his portraits, show the same wealth of invention and poverty of fact.

Champlain himself was largely responsible for that. He wrote thousands of pages about what he did, but only a few words about who he was. His published works are extraordinary for an extreme reticence about his origins, inner thoughts, private life, and personal feelings. Rarely has an author written so much and revealed so little about himself. These were not casual omissions, but studied silences. Here again, as in the old battle-print, Champlain was hidden by his own hand. He was silent and even secretive about the most fundamental facts of his life. He never mentioned his age. His birth date is uncertain. Little information survives about his family, and not a word about his schooling. He was raised in an age of faith, but we do not know if he was baptized Protestant or Catholic.

After all this uncertainty about the man himself, it is a relief to turn to the record of his acts. Here we have an abundance of evidence, and it makes a drama that is unique in the history of exploration. No other discoverer mastered so many roles over so long a time, and each of them presents a puzzle.

By profession Champlain was a soldier, and he chose to represent himself that way in his self-portrait. He fought in Europe, the Caribbean, and North America, bore the scars of wounds on his face and body, and witnessed atrocities beyond imagining. Like many old soldiers, he took pride in his military service, but he grew weary of war. Always he kept a soldier's creed of honor, courage, and duty, but increasingly did so in the cause of peace. There is a question about how he squared these thoughts.

At the same time, Champlain was a mariner of long experience. He went to sea at an early age, and rose from ship's boy to "admirall" of a colonizing fleet. From 1599 to 1633 he made at least twenty-seven Atlantic crossings and hundreds of other voyages. He never lost a ship under his command, except once when he was a passenger aboard a sinking barque in a heavy gale on a lee shore, with a captain who was unable to act. Champlain seized command, set the mainsail, and deliberately drove her high on a rocky coast in a raging storm — and saved every man aboard. There are interesting questions to be asked about his leadership and astonishing seamanship.

Champlain is best remembered for his role as an explorer. He developed a method of close-in coastal exploration that he called "ferreting," and he used it to study thousands of miles of the American coast from Panama to Labrador. He also explored much of North America through what are now six Canadian provinces and five American states. He was the first European to see much of this countryside, and he enabled us to see it through his eyes. His unique methods raise another question about how he did that work, and with what result.

Champlain also mapped this vast area in yet another role as a cartographer. He put himself in the forefront of geographic knowledge in his era. His many maps and charts set a new standard for accuracy and detail. Experts have studied them with amazement. They wonder how he made maps of such excellence with the crude instruments at his command. He also embellished his maps with handsome drawings. In his own time he was known as an artist. When rival French merchants opposed his appointment to high office, they complained that Champlain was a "mere painter," and therefore unfit for command. In his drawings he left us a visual record of the new world, which alone would make him an important figure. To study the few originals is to discover the skill and refinement of his art. But nearly all his art survives only in crude copies that challenge us to recover the spirit of his work.

Champlain was a prolific writer. He is most accessible to us through his published books, which exceed in quantity and quality the work of every major explorer of North America during his era. A close second was the work of Captain John Smith, but Champlain's published writings were larger in bulk. They covered a broader area, spanned a longer period, and drew deeply on the intellectual currents of his age. The problem is to find the mind behind the prose.

In his books Champlain played a role as a pioneer ethnographer. He left an abundance of first-hand description about many Indian nations in North America. During the late twentieth century some scholars criticized him for ethnocentrism. That judgment is correct in some ways, but Champlain's work remains a major source of sympathetic description. A challenging problem is to sort out truth from error.

He was also a naturalist. Champlain loved plants and animals, gathered information about the flora and fauna of the new world, and studied the climate and resources of the places he visited. He planted experimental gardens in four colonies and did much descriptive writing about the American environment before European settlement, and how it changed.

Especially important to his posterity was Champlain's role as a founder and leader of the first permanent French settlements in North America. A major part of his life was his economic association with many trading companies that paid for New France. This was Champlain's most difficult role, and his least successful. Wealthy investors often defeated him, and many companies failed. But in his stewardship, New France somehow survived three decades of failure — which is not only an unknown but a mystery.

Through those same three decades from 1603 to 1635, Champlain also returned to France in most years. He had another busy career as a courtier and a tireless promoter of his American project. Four people ruled France in that era: Henri IV until 1610, Marie de Medici as queen regent after 1610, Louis XII from 1617, and Richelieu as "first minister" from 1624. Champlain worked directly with all except the queen regent, argued vigorously for New France, and prodded them so forcefully that one wonders how he stayed out of the Bastille. During that long period, six highborn French noblemen and "princes of the blood" served as lieutenant general or viceroy or "cardinal-admiral" of New France. All but one of them were absentees who never came to America. Each of them without exception chose Champlain to be his chief lieutenant and commander in the new world. He got on with all those very difficult people — another puzzle.

One of Champlain's most important roles was in the peopling of New France. For some reason the French have always been less likely to emigrate than were millions of British, Germans, and other Europeans. And yet in thirty years Champlain did more than any other leader to establish three French-speaking populations and start them growing in North America. In a pivotal moment from 1632 to 1635 when he was acting governor, they suddenly began to expand by sustained natural increase, and they have continued to do so, even to our own time. Champlain had a leading hand in that, and even subsidized marriages and families with his own wealth. Each of these three populations developed its own distinct culture and speechways which made them Québécois, Acadien, and Métis. Today their descendants have multiplied to millions of people. Something of Champlain's time survives in their language and folkways. They are chief among his many legacies.

Champlain also played a role in the religious history of New France. He worked with Protestant ministers, Catholic priests, Recollets, Jesuits, and Capuchins. His Christian faith was deeply important to him, increasingly so as he grew older. But he struggled to reconcile an ideal of tolerance with the reality of an established Church — a problem that he never solved.

If nothing else, his life was a record of stamina with few equals. But always it was more than that. Champlain was a dreamer. He was a man of vision, and like most visionaries he dreamed of many things. Several scholars have written about his dream of finding a passage to China. Others have written of his dream for the colonization in New France. But all these visions were part of a larger dream that has not been studied. This war-weary soldier had a dream of humanity and peace in a world of cruelty and violence. He envisioned a new world as a place where people of different cultures could live together in amity and concord. This became his grand design for North America.

Champlain was not a solitary dreamer. He moved within several circles of French humanists during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. They are neglected figures of much importance in the history of ideas — bridge-figures who inherited the Renaissance and inspired the Enlightenment. They were not of one mind, but they had large purposes in common. One group of French humanists centered on the person of Henri IV and were guided by his great example. Another was an American circle in Paris who never crossed the Atlantic but were inspired by the idea of the new world. In a third group were many French humanists who came to North America with Champlain — men such as the sieur de Mons and the sieur de Razilly. In the beginning they were his leaders. By the end he became theirs.

Champlain traveled in other circles among the leaders of Indian nations, who also were great dreamers. He knew them intimately, and they live as individuals in the pages of his books. Champlain had a way of getting along with very different people, and he also had the rarest gift of all. In long years of labor, he found a way to convert his dreams into realities. In the face of great obstacles and heavy defeats, he exercised his skills of leadership in extreme conditions. Those of us who are leaders today (which includes most of us in an open society) have something to learn from him about that.

Champlain was a leader, but he was not a saint. We do not need another work of hagiography about him. He was a mortal man of flesh and blood, a very complicated man. He made horrific errors in his career, and some of his mistakes cost other men their lives. He cultivated an easy manner, but sometimes he drove his men so hard that four of them tried to murder him. His quest for amity and concord with the Indians led to wars with the Mohawk and the Onondaga. His private life was deeply troubled, particularly in his relations with women. Champlain lived comfortably as a man among men, but one discovery eluded this great discoverer. He never found the way to a woman's heart. It was not for want of trying. He was strongly attracted to women, but his most extended relationship ended in frustration.

His ideal of humanity was very large, but it was also limited in strange, ironic ways. Champlain embraced the American Indians, but not his own French servants. He had deep flaws and made many enemies, responded badly to criticism, and could be very petty to rivals. But other men who knew this man wrote of him with respect and affection. Even his enemies did so.

Just now, we have an opportunity to study this extraordinary man in a new light. In the early twenty-first century, three nations are celebrating the 400th anniversary of his achievements. Something similar happened in the early twentieth century, for his 300th anniversary. The literature about Champlain is like a century plant. It blooms every hundred years, then fades and blooms again.

At the start of the twentieth century, a very large literature ran heavily to hagiography, and celebrated Champlain as a saintly figure. After 1950 the inevitable reaction set in. Popular debunkers and academic iconoclasts made Champlain a favorite target. These attacks were deepened by a fin-de-siècle attitude called political correctness, with its revulsion against great white men, especially empire-builders, colonial founders, and discoverers.

Incredibly, some apostles of political correctness even tried to ban the word "discovery" itself. Historian Peter Pope met this attitude on the 500th anniversary of John Cabot's northern voyages of discovery. He recalls: "I was asked by a servant of the P.R. industry in June 1996 to summarize Cabot's achievement without using the term discovery. She told me it had been banned.... Any talk of 'discovery' is understood as an endorsement of conquest." Pope was ordered to "describe what the Venetian pilot did without using the D-word."

As these attitudes spread widely during the late twentieth century, Champlain began to fade from the historical literature. He all but disappeared from school curricula in France, Canada, and the United States. Many still remember him, but when the subject came up in France, we heard people say, "Connais pas, never heard of him." In the United States, one person asked, "Champlain? Why are you writing a book about a lake?" In 1999, Canadian historian W. J. Eccles wrote that "there is no good biography of Champlain." For twenty years from 1987 to 2008, there was no full-scale biography at all.

Since the turn of the twenty-first century, attitudes have been changing yet again. Historians are returning to the study of leaders in general, and to Champlain in particular. With the inspired leadership of Raymonde Litalien and Denis Vaugeois, five volumes of collected essays appeared in Canada, France, and the United States from 2004 to 2007. Together these books prompted more than a hundred new studies of Champlain and his world.

They built on the foundation of a new historiography that had been growing quietly since the 1960s through all the Sturm und Drang of political correctness. Archaeological research has been taking place on an unprecedented scale. A new historical ethnography has deepened our understanding of Champlain's relations with Indians. A major school of Canadian social history led by the great scholarship of Marcel Trudel has wrought a revolution in our knowledge of Champlain's New France. Much important work has happened in demographic and economic history. Geographers led by Conrad Heidenreich have studied his cartography in detail. Archival scholars such as Robert Le Blant have turned up much new material on Champlain and made those findings more accessible to others.

The new scholarship of the early twenty-first century is becoming more mature, more global, more balanced, more empirical, more eclectic, and less ideological than before. A result of this new scholarship has been to undercut the writings of iconoclasts. Two generations ago, the dominant source for Champlain's life was his own writing, which inspired skepticism. Today in every chapter of his life, we can test his own accounts against the evidence of archaeology, archival materials, other narratives, complex chronologies, and interlocking sources in great variety. Many small errors and some larger ones have been found in Champlain's work, but the main lines of his writings have been reinforced by other evidence. An example is René Baudry, who worked with Le Blant to make much new archival material available to others. He writes of Champlain, "It is much to his credit that information from other sources almost always confirms the accuracy of his accounts."

In this recent work, old methods are being used in new ways. One of them is the method of Herodotus, and his idea of history as a genuinely free and open inquiry — the literal Greek meaning of history. Another way forward was the school that taught historians three lessons about their work: "First, go there! Do it! Then write it!" To read Champlain's many books in that spirit, to explore the places that he described, and to follow in his track, is to make an astonishing discovery about our own world. Many of the places that Champlain described in the seventeenth century can still be seen today, not precisely as he saw them, but some of them are remarkably little changed. This is so in large parts of the St. Lawrence Valley and the magnificent Saguenay River. It is so along the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Maine, the forests and waterways of Canada, the harbors of Acadia, and the coast of Gaspésie. It is so in the United States on Mount Desert Island, the Isles Rangées, the Puffin Islands, and Ticonderoga. It is that way again in the rolling ground of the Onondaga Country, and the natural meadowlands of Cap Tourmente.

Champlain's places of discovery are a world that we may be losing, but they are not yet a world we have lost. It is still possible to explore them by car and plane, by canoe and kayak, by sailboat and zodiac boat, by snowshoe — and some of the best places are accessible only by foot. At all these many sites we can rediscover this great discoverer by going there, and doing it, and traveling through his space in our time.

Other sites in Champlain's life are accessible in a different way. Archaeologists have been hard at work on the sites where he lived and worked. Many traces of what he did have been coming out of the ground in a most extraordinary way. That is so at Sainte-Croix Island, Port-Royal, Quebec, Pentagoet, Cap Tourmente, Ticonderoga, Huronia, and Iroquoia. On the other side of the water, it is the same at Brouage, Crozon, Blavet, Honfleur, Quimper, Fontainebleau, the Marais district of Paris, even the basement of the Louvre. Many of these places that were important to Champlain have preserved much of their character even as the world has changed around them. This book builds on all that physical evidence.

It also seeks a path of understanding between hagiographers on the one hand and iconoclasts on the other. In that regard, one of the most important opportunities of this inquiry is for us to get right with both Champlain and the American Indians. Two generations ago, historians wrote of European saints and Indian savages. In the last generation, too many scholars have been writing about Indian saints and European savages. The opportunity for our generation is to go beyond that calculus of saints and savages altogether, and write about both American Indians and Europeans with maturity, empathy, and understanding. Many historians are now doing that, and this book is another effort in that direction.

After the delusions of political correctness, ideological rage, multiculturalism, postmodernism, historical relativism, and the more extreme forms of academic cynicism, historians today are returning to the foundations of their discipline with a new faith in the possibilities of historical knowledge, and with new results. This inquiry is conceived in that spirit. It begins not with a thesis, or a theory, or an ideology, but with a set of open questions about Champlain. It asks, who was this man? Where did he come from? What did he do? Why did he do it? What difference did he make? Why should we care? The answers to all these questions make a story. It begins where Champlain began, in a small town on the coast of France, looking outward across the Bay of Biscay toward America.

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Champlain's Dream 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
DavidS-Albuquerque More than 1 year ago
Dr. Fischer has used past and recent historical evidence coupled with ethnographic, economic, political, and archaeological data to weave a wonderful account of Samuel Champlain and the early French efforts of colonizing North America. Previous to this effort, the most popular account of Champlain was Samuel E. Morison's book written almost a half century ago. While Morison's book was very good, Fischer's effort not only relates the geographic ventures but delves into the psyche of Champlain the man.

No stone is left unturned and although Fischer has his own opinions he goes out of his way to present alternative viewpoints. His book draws on numerous sources and is complemented by outstanding maps, plates, charts, etc. The bibliography is is very extensive, there are copious notes and in addition, the appendix covers various tribes, personalities, ships, and weapons pertinent to the epic.

Dr. Fischer delivers a first rate look at Champlain's beginning, the area and circumstances surrounding his actions and thoughts. In the book Champlain is presented as a determined, unselfish, loyal, modest, and wise individual totally dedicated to establishing a colony for France in the the New World. He succeeds only after 30 years of struggle and hardships all of which he endured for no personal gain but for the glory of France. He does all this treating the native populations with respect and dignity. They were his partners not his subjects thus the French settlements were entirely different from their English and Spanish counterparts.

From beginning to end, Fischer's Champlain is a book packed with adventure, discovery, intrigue, ethnography, failures, and finally success. Whether Chapmplain is plotting the coasts, establishing settlements, at war, or just plain exploring, the reader will feel like he/she is there. In short, although its a biography/history it reads like a novel. One will find it quite difficult to stop turning the pages.

I should also mention that the publishers did an outstanding job in the production of the book itself. There are excellent end paper maps, the binding is solid and will not tend to disengage after a couple of readings, and the dust jacket is bright and lively. Furthermore, Simon & Shuster are to be commended for allowing Dr. Fischer to include all his notes etc, since the trend in publishing is to eliminate most data that are not pertinent to the story and put out what I consider to be an incomplete product.

All in all, I cannot think of another book that has all these attributes and I highly recommend this book to both the general reader and to those of a more scholarly interest.
smb45 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful book. If Champlain wasn't the most important explorer ever to land on our shores, I don't know who was. He was an absolutely incredible man. Great story telling, and it makes driving up and down the Ottawa River so much more interesting.
pmerriam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Outstanding! Probably too detailed for a casual reader, but excellent for anyone with an intense interest in the contact period.
bruchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Masterpiece of Historical WritingIn this incredible biography of one of Canada's founders, Samuel de Champlain, Pulitzer Prize winning author David Hackett Fischer produces yet another textual masterpiece. "Champlain's Dream" combines a stirring narrative with a dizzying array of historical sources which results in the rare kind of history book that will be read for many generations to come.First off, Fischer's ability to put together source material into a coherent and compelling narrative is nothing short of brilliant. The book reads like a novel with Champlain as the central character. Yes, at times, you can sense a bit of Stockholm syndrome, hero worship, but the writing is so fluid and exciting that anyone can appreciate it regardless of its historiographical content.As for the content, Fischer's major point is to show that Champlain was a visionary. A man who could see what others couldn't. A man who knew what he wanted and went for it. Deeply disturbed by the religious strife in France, Champlain felt that he could establish New France as a bastion of religious pluralism, a place for Huguenots and Catholics alike could put down roots. Champlain's own faith is of major discussion here. Born as a Catholic, most likely converted to Protestantism, and re-affirmed a Catholic later in life. All throughout, however, Champlain had a deep sense of personal piety, Christian values, which governed his dealings with others, and most notably with the natives.As mentioned above, despite Champlain's mostly altruism towards the natives, his faith informed much of his inherent ethnocentrism, writing that "they [Huron] adore and believe in no God nor in any such thing, but live like brute beasts." (p. 340). So while, Champlain respected the natives' traditions, he could look beyond their lack of moral law and monotheistic faith. Paternalism certainly figured into his intentions in helping to "christianize" the natives. If there is any criticism of Fischer, it is that he is dismissive of such condescension. Perhaps, it is anachronistic to polemicize these colonial attitudes, but at the same time it is equally anachronistic to trivialize them.The part of the book that I enjoyed the most were the cultural aspects after the colonies of Quebec and Acadia were firmly established after the critical take-off years of 1633-35. Fischer does a great job outlining and explaining the nuances of language evolution in colonial New France. The sections on the Acadiens or Cajuns, and the Metis were especially well done. Fischer's insight combined with source material has excellent breadth and depth.One of the major themes of "Champlain's Dream" is to emphasis the differences between New France and the settlements of the British in New England and Virginia. Fischer writes: "These Frenchmen did not try to conquer the Indians and copel them to work, as in New Spain. They did not abuse them as in Virginia, or drive them away as in New England. In the region that they began to call Canada, from 1603 to 1635, small colonies of Frenchmen and large Indian nations lived close to one another in a spirit of amite and concorde. They formed a mutual respect for each other's vital interests, and built a relationship of trust that endured for many years." (p. 528).If all of the above was not enough to convince a serious historian why this book is so significant, then you'll be happy to know that Fischer includes a compilation of almost 400 pages of primary and secondary source material as Appendixes. There are excerpts of Champlain's writings (he was a historian of his day), cartographies, photographs, and much more. Throughout the book, Fischer includes many relevant primary source photographs and documents. All of this rich information alone is reason enough to buy this book.Fischer is an old-school historian. You won't find much post-colonial theory, or sociological analysis. He explicitly states that he is happy that the decades of revisionism, postmodernism, his
AsYouKnow_Bob on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Everything popular history should be.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a great book! Author David Hackett Fisher has done an amazing job in bringing us the story of Samuel de Champlain. The research he cites is comprehensive and well documented. He's also provided several annexes that explore related topics such as the unresolved issue of Champlain's birth date, the type of money used in Champlain's time, and much more.Not only is this a thorough history, it is simply great writing. At times, it reads like a novel (I mean that as a's engaging.) If only my sons' high school text books were this compelling! I was particularly interested in Champlain's relationship with the Indians of what is now Quebec and New England, and couldn't help but wonder how different life in Canada may have been had that kind of nation-to-nation perspective endured.The author is obviously a fan of Champlain's and the book paints him in a very favourable way. Champlain's humanity and vision shine through it all. Is that a completey accurate portrait? Who knows, but it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I never really knew about this subject. It is amazing how successful Champlain was. This reads more like a novel than nonfiction history book
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anonymously More than 1 year ago
great history
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Literaryarky More than 1 year ago
I consider the author, David Fischer, to be America's best writer of non-fiction. He does not disappoint here though this work is not quite the equal of "Washington's Crossing", Fischer's Pulitzer Prize winner. Champlain's life and times are fascinating. We are treated to a long introduction about one of Europe's most able rulers, King Henry IV. Henry IV used religious tolerance to unify France. One of the pleasures of this work is getting to know Henry IV. To a certain extent Champlain was mentored by the king and clearly influenced by his ideas of tolerance. We see a young Champlain disgusted by Spain's cruelty to the natives in Mexico. In a unique opportunity to visit the Spanish colonies, he determines to treat the natives as equals. The stories of Champlain's relationship with native tribes in New France are fascinating. He is a skilled explorer, carefully mapping unchartered waters. He is an able, if reluctant, fighter against the enemies of friendly native tribes. These are exciting stories. Despite his leadership, New France barely holds on by a thread. When Henry IV is assassinated by a religious zealot, the surviving Queen shows little interest in New France. Perhaps Champlain's greatest accomplishment is keeping French interest in the new world alive after Henry IV's death. To do this he must be in France to deal with the court intrigue. Throughout it all he perseveres to keep the dream of New France alive. His life is full of exciting adventures and dreams ultimately followed in the end by sadness. Do not be put off by the over 800 pages in this work. Over 300 of them are appendixes and footnotes. Highly recommended.
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This book combines superior scholarship with an easy-read style. It flows very logically, is well-organized, and is objective. Typically, we Americans have very limited information about our neighbors to the north. There is no longer an excuse. If there was only one book to read about Canada, it should be this. The foot notes and appendices recognize all the scholarly thought surrounding this subject for the last four hundred years. The format helps those who want to further study Champlain and Canada's heritage. The work more than satisfied my curiosity especially in describing Canada and France in Champlain's lifetime. An excellent point is made that Champlain was a product of a remarkable up-bringing in a very unique part of France. Once again we have an example that we are the product of our roots and experience. The author was convincing in arguing that Champlain lived to make his dream come true of a New France. This book is for the ages or at least as long as man dreams for a better world and does something about it.