Book Review 2008 #50: Champlain’s Dream

Another book given to me in exchange for a review (via Amazon Prime), Champlain’s Dream is the history of the explorer Samuel De Champlain, written by Pulitzer Prize winning author David Hackett Fischer.

Now well known for his Pulitzer Prize winning history, Washington’s Crossing, in Champlain’s Dream, David Hackett Fischer tackles the father of New France, explorer and colonizer Samuel de Champlain.
Although the volume veers slightly toward hagiography (despite the author’s protestations to the contrary), Champlain’s Dream is an exhaustive and detailed look at Champlain and his world. Starting with the sociopolitical and religious milieu of southwestern France in the 16th century, and continuing through the book, Fischer gives us an education on the environment in which Champlain grew up. I learned more about 16th and 17th century in this one volume than I have in an entire college course on European history.
The detail on Champlain the man and his actions and history is also similarly comprehensive. Although his admiration for Champlain comes through on every page, Fischer does try to give a balanced look at Champlain and his works. Fischer’s thesis is that Champlain, raised in the cosmopolitan town of Brouage, carried a philosophy of tolerance and propensity to America in his relations with the Native American tribes. This multiculturalism and ethos is presented in stark contrast to the experiences of English and especially Spanish America.
Even given the author’s obvious admiration for the subject, the biography is very well written, with a command of the language I could only wish was in modern high school and college textbooks. You won’t be bored to tears reading about Champlain’s adventures as a spy in Spanish colonies, or his explorations of the St. Lawrence Valley, or his attempts to continue to secure funding against competing interests in the Court of the French Kings.
Appendixes to the main text include copious footnotes, a discussion of the true age of Champlain (not clear cut, given the lack of records in the time period), and a discussion of how the biographies and view of Champlain have changed over time.
I enjoyed the volume quite a bit, and strongly recommend this book to all history buffs.