Bernard Bailyn's The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction was initially a rough scribbling to himself, to help him organise his thoughts. Over the years of research, study and preparation for his major project - a large-scale, multi-volume exposition of the peopling of British North America - he enlarged and developed this monograph, and began to deliver it in the form of lectures. The form the present work takes is that of three lectures given by Bailyn - the Curti Lectures - at the University of Wisconsin. These three lectures now form the introduction to his larger project, the first substantive volume of which was released at the same time - Voyagers to the West, which won a Pulitzer Prize.
The very fact that these lectures originated as Bailyn's notes to himself is exciting and illuminating as it allows us a rare glimpse into the mind of a great historian. The fact that the written manuscript was published in its lecture form is incredibly liberating to the text, and gives it a directness and flow far superior to most history books - which as a genre is, indeed, infamous for its dry, ponderous tomes. The hardy propositions and deep analysis of information is delivered with a magisterial lightness of touch which makes this little book a joy to read. I can only wish that more books were written in lecture form - both for the digestable breakdown into 1-2-hour chunks and for the rhetorical treatment which makes a text more engaging and enjoyable.
I won't go into the details of the text, but, roughly put, Bailyn identifies four propositions that shape his argument in The Peopling of British North America. The depth of knowledge and analysis is apparent from the text, as is the sense that this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Even if the subject is not one you're particularly passionate about, the treatment of it makes it worth reading by any academic or gentleman/armchair scholar.
As for the other volumes of the project, I wish I could tell you more, but the internet is strangely unforthcoming with answers. The only other substantive volume I can find I due for release on the 6th November 2012 - obviously Mr Bailyn is still hard at work. This is The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675, covering therefore an earlier period than Voyagers to the West. I have pre-ordered it, and live in hope that the preface to this new work will reveal more than my vain efforts.