I rate this book as "5 star" even though I want to disagree with one of the author's conclusions. I agree with the 2 reviewers who have preceded me, and will not repeat anything they have said, most usefully, as an assessment of the book. This book establishes Belich as a colossus of historianship. He has presented as near-comprehensive a set of data and observations as one could wish for, so that someone like me who might draw a different conclusion to the author himself, can do so using the author's own work. This is true dispassionate historianship, so Belich absolutely deserves 5 stars.
This is simply one of the most educational books you will ever read. Readers will glean insight after insight about subjects that intersect with the main one. For example, I am extremely passionate about the process of socio-economic, path dependent evolution that leads to developed, urbanised economies and a wide spectrum of different city types - I love the work of Fernand Braudel and Colin Clark and Sir Peter Hall. The "big picture" scholarship that is provided by reading this book, is well worth the effort even if you have a distaste (politically correct civilisation self-loathing!) for the central subject. The economic and socio-economic evolution of urban form is enmeshed with the subject, and I constantly picked up points that I was unaware of.
Belich quotes the famous urbanist Lewis Mumford several times and convincingly refines Mumford's points on things such as the progress of civilisation from the technologies of "eo-technic" to "paleo-technic" to "neo-technic".
Belich says, correctly in my view, that Mumford insuffiently identifies the vast flowering of older technologies as the new ones start to be established - for example, "....rail increased the demand for horse transport. More passengers and more freight needed more feeder transport to get to and from the trains. Settler newlands in the nineteenth century featured two full suites of technology, eo-technic and paleo-technic, side by side, and this doubled the action. Log rafts of twelve acres, seven-masted sailing ships, giant wagons with ten-ton loads hauled by twenty span, should be as much symbols of explosive settlement as are steamships and locomotives......"
(Other useful work on this point, i.e. the late flowering of older technologies, will be found in the work of "systems analysts" like Robert Herman, Arnulf Grubler, Cesare Marchetti, and Jesse Ausubel. Older technologies tend to be still rising to "saturation" for decades, even as new ones begin to be established).
Belich points out that early colonies were not based on "exports" - they simply were self contained economies just like Britain itself, only with "growth" itself as an industry. Exporting back to Britain came later, with refrigeration and modern transport. This export-driven phase was actually a "rescue" of the collapsed "growth bubble" condition in which many of the colonies ended up.
One historical reality that could be better known, is that in the pre-internal combustion engine era, as much as one third of croplands were required to feed horses and draught animals. (Belich's reference: Susan Previant Lee and Peter Passell, "A New Economic View of American History"). Because the number of horses greatly increased in cities in conjunction with the flowering of early rail transport (to provide "feeder" transport within the city), it was necessary to dedicate large amounts of land adjacent to the city, to the growing of oats, and to freight bulky supplies of "feed" into cities. The amount of land taken up by "sprawl" subsequent to the advent of the automobile, is still considerably less than the land gained through the elimination of the need to feed horses and indeed other draft animals.
If we go back a few more decades in history, prior to the advent of rail and refrigeration, "road congestion" principally consisted of huge herds of livestock being driven to the city's markets in preparation for killing, butchery, and sale. Further land space surrounding the city was required for temporary "fattening" of livestock that had lost too much weight en route from remoter farming areas. In our obsession with the "negative externalities" of contemporary civilization, we tend to heavily discount, without even being aware of it, the negative externalities of the preceding system. Even New York was described as "one gigantic pigsty" in its pre-automobile history, while London's principal "export" to the surrounding regions for some decades, was animal dung.
One thing contemporary history seems to be quite clear about, is the misery of industrial revolution conditions in Britain, and yet, the misery of the rural subsistence that preceded it was even worse.
Emigrating to wide open spaces allowed people to have the best of both worlds: rapid economic-technological progress and "urbanisation", but with the ability to live in far healthier conditions within their limited means. Owning sufficient land to be able to own and maintain your own horse was an impossibility for most people in Britain. The rate of horse ownership in the colonies anticipated society's later "love affair with the car".
Low cost land and business premises provided massive opportunity for entrepreneurship that generally remained unrealised under "old country" conditions. It also provided far greater opportunity to "provide a future for one's family", than a future trapped in the urban "rich get richer, poor get poorer" net. Karl Marx was actually right under conditions where only a few own most or all urban land, because rising incomes always just force up rents. Mobility, either via widespread horse ownership (as in the colonial economies) or later, universally, by automobiles, destroys the "tyranny of rent" and enables the democratisation of land ownership.
Feeding rising urban populations prior to refrigeration and modern transport always hit its own limits. Emigration allowed people to escape the inevitable famines and plagues. It is a question whether "progress" would have been anywhere near as rapid without this "spreading out" of enterprising people. It is worth noting here, that the economist Everett Hagen made a remarkable study, in the book "On the Theory of Social Change; How Economic Growth Begins", of the introducers of industrial innovations in late 18th-century England, a critical period of economic growth. Almost all, he found, were of "dissenting" religions; that is, Protestants who nevertheless rejected the established Church of England. Hagen attempted to explain this correlation, all the more remarkable because of the numerical minority of the dissenters, in terms of the kind of mind that would both dissent and be inventive. But surely this misses the point. History has not lacked dissenting minds, what it had lacked up till the Reformation, was non-establishment churches in which this kind of mind could come to full flower.
Matthew Parris, in his remarkable recent essay entitled, "As an Atheist, I Honestly Believe Africa Needs God", notes that ".......Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework.....(of) tribal belief.....(which) is no more peaceable than ours; and (which) suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the "big man" and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the literal inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition. Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders......"
This matches Belich's observation about "The Black English" (the Protestant Christian converts among the natives) in his section of that name; these people tended to be just as enterprising, entrepreneurial, thrifty, and successful as the Colonisers themselves.
My disagreement with Belich's conclusions, is that he explicitly disagrees with previous authors who place great importance on the role of "culture" - in this case, "dissenting" Protestantism, in the phenomenon he is writing about - but he provides ample evidence for anyone who wants to draw the conclusion that culture does indeed matter. As I say, this is true historianship.
According to W. E. Van Vugt in "Britain to America: Mid Nineteenth Century Immigrants to the United States"; between 1845 and 1855, two thirds of British emigrants were "non conformist" - 20% Presbyterian - with only 12.6 per cent from the Anglican majority.
The following books in addition to the one immediately above, are cited by Belich as supporting the argument that non-conformists and Methodists in particular, featured disproportionately in the great Anglo migrations of the 19th century:
Elizabeth Cooper: "Religion, Politics and Money: The Methodist Union of 1832-1833"
Geoffrey Serle: "The Golden Age: A History of the Colony of Victoria 1851 - 61"
Don Wright and Eric Clancy: "The Methodists: A History of Methodism in New South Wales"
Lawrence H. Larsen: "The Urban West and the End of the Frontier"
Mark A. Noll: "A History of Christianity in The United States and Canada"
Christopher Adamson: "God's Continent Divided"
J.C. Deming and M.S. Hamilton: "Methodist Revivalism in France, Canada and the United States"
G.A. Rawlyk and M.A. Noll "Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States"
Richard Carwardine: "Trans-Atlantic Revivalism: Popular Evangelicalism in Britain and America 1790 - 1865"
James Belich tries to play down this aspect of the unique vigour of the great Anglo migrations and procreation of which he is writing, by presenting alternative theses and noting the absence of similar migrations from nations equally as Protestant as Britain, but perhaps misses the point that Edmund Burke made when speaking to the British parliament in defence of the U.S. revolutionaries:
".....Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit. The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is the most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion. This is a persuasion not only favourable to liberty, but built upon it. I do not think, Sir, that the reason of this averseness in the dissenting churches, from all that looks like absolute government, is so much to be sought in their religious tenets, as in their history. Every one knows that the Roman Catholic religion is at least coeval with most of the governments where it prevails; that it has generally gone hand in hand with them, and received great favour and every kind of support from authority. The Church of England too was formed from her cradle under the nursing care of regular government. But the dissenting interests have sprung up in direct opposition to all the ordinary powers of the world; and could justify that opposition only on a strong claim to natural liberty. Their very existence depended on the powerful and unremitted assertion of that claim. All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion. This religion, under a variety of denominations agreeing in nothing but in the communion of the spirit of liberty, is predominant in most of the northern provinces; where the Church of England, notwithstanding its legal rights, is in reality no more than a sort of private sect, not composing most probably the tenth of the people. The colonists left England when this spirit was high, and in the emigrants was the highest of all; and even that stream of foreigners, which has been constantly flowing into these colonies, has, for the greatest part, been composed of dissenters from the establishments of their several countries, and have brought with them a temper and character far from alien to that of the people with whom they mixed......"
Belich does note that Dutch and Germans and Scandinavians and other "white European" races were popular with Anglo majorities in the Colonies (he refers to them as "the honorary English"), as compatible with their own society, in contrast to the suspicion with which Catholic Irish and southern Europeans, Orthodox Eastern Europeans, and unconverted pagans were regarded. Belich ascribes this somewhat to a kind of racial superiority complex, perhaps failing to credit the feature that many of these immigrants were in fact dissenters from the "established" church in their own lands, just as the most of the British settlers were from Anglicanism. Christianised pagans were, however, referred to in some regions as "the Black English", and Belich gives a section of the book, this title.
Perhaps Belich deserves credit, though, for titling his book with a scriptural quotation that in fact was a strong influence on the thinking of the migrants, and Belich notes this in the book. He also notes that "......the point of the (evangelical) revivals was to stimulate personal change....."
One wonders whether that for Belich to have dared to endorse the "cultural" narrative, would have risked too much backlash from the anti-Christian, Marxist-materialist history department/educational/publishing "establishment".
One of the modern Left's successful lies in the historical narrative it has largely imposed in modern institutions of learning, has been to portray the "Anglo Settler Revolution" in terms of "imperialism" when in fact a major part of it consisted of "religious refugees". This insight helps very much, in getting an accurate picture of why the USA in particular is what it is.
Had the USA's founding fathers truly been what the Left wishfully claim them to have been - kind of "Jacobin-Lite" enlightenment secularists - there is no way that the USA would have ended up as the kind of nation it did. There is a far higher chance that it would have ended up like a disastrous blend of France's colonies, Latin America, and the later USSR. Of course the kind of "culture" that the colonials brought with them was crucial. So I will end this review by recommending M. Stanton Evans' book "The Theme is Freedom", another reference-laden work of historianship of "colossus" proportions, as the other unique book everyone needs to read to see why a different conclusion to Belich's can be drawn from the historical material that Belich himself so ably provides.