The best books about everyday life in Village New England

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by the everyday lives of people from early New England; I want to understand how they experienced their world, made choices, and participated in changing history. Most of these people left no memoirs, so I’ve spent years in all manner of archives, piecing together clues to individual lives. I’ve found extraordinary insights on how and why people farmed in tax valuations, deeper knowledge of their material world in probate court inventories, evidence of neighborly interdependence in old account books, etc. I’ve spent my career as a public historian sharing these stories through museum research and exhibits, public programs, lectures, and writing. I love the hunt – and the story!

I wrote...

A Crisis of Community: The Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848

By Mary Babson Fuhrer,

Book cover of A Crisis of Community: The Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848

What is my book about?

The early 19th century in rural New England was not a quiet age of homespun; it was awash in conflict. Fuhrer mines deep into one town’s history—using intimate letters, detail-rich diaries, and revealing town records—to uncover a fractious tale of people resisting, confronting, or promoting change. Personable characters include Squire White, his formidable lady, their ten ambitious children, and a supporting cast of hired help, neighbors both amiable and cantankerous, calculating farmers, embattled ministers, and determined female reformers. Together they encounter the zeal of the Second Great Awakening, the Market Revolution, partisan politics, a new social order, and most of all, family dynamics turned topsy turvy. Their adventures—often humorous and sometimes heartbreaking—fracture and remake their small town – from insular and community-oriented to an outward-focused, pluralistic town of striving individuals. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Quabbin: The Story of a Small Town With Outlooks Upon Puritan Life

Mary Babson Fuhrer Why did I love this book?

Quabbin is a relic of a lost world – both figuratively and literally. In his old age, Francis Underwood remembered his childhood village, the buildings, the personalities, their dress, manners, and speech, their faith and their passions for reform, their old social customs and their emerging middle-class sensibilities – and most of all their stories. But it is a world, as Underwood knew, that was passing away. His secluded old New England village was opening to the world, and its agrarian ways were soon to be eclipsed by the industrial village. What Underwood did not know, but we do, is that his childhood home has literally disappeared, under the flooding waters of the Quabbin Reservoir. This is an extraordinary testimonial to that lost world!

By Francis Henry Underwood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Quabbin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and…

Book cover of The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840

Mary Babson Fuhrer Why did I love this book?

Jack Larkin, former historian of Old Sturbridge Village, befriended me when I was a research fellow at the Village years ago. He was one of the most generous and original scholars I’ve ever known. Though deeply versed in the primary sources of the Village’s rich research library, Jack’s understanding of the past was richly informed by his immersion in the living history of the Village. He knew the past intimately – how it felt, looked, smelled. For Jack, being “in the room where it happened” had a different meaning: he knew their homes, barns, workshops, meetinghouses. He married this rich evidence with his knowledge of village life – family and neighborly dynamics, the growth of material desires, popular politics, and religious revivalism. This book engagingly preserves Jack’s rare understanding of daily life in the early Republic. 

By Jack Larkin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Reshaping of Everyday Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Compact and insightful. "--New York Times Book Review "Jack Larkin has retrieved the irretrievable; the intimate facts of everyday life that defined what people were really like."--American Heritage

Book cover of The New England Village

Mary Babson Fuhrer Why did I love this book?

Joseph Wood creatively uses landscape, settlement patterns, and the built environment to challenge a fabled view of the Currier and Ives New England village. The compact village center, with a steepled church, tidy white homes, and quaint shops surrounding the village green has too long colored our historical imaginings about an idealized New England past. But these forms, Wood convincingly argues, do not describe our colonial past. They are a 19th c invention that both romanticizes and obscures the actual colonial landscape of scattered farmsteads, meadows, and pastures. Early New England was shaped by a land-hungry people who sought competency & security in an expansive countryside. Richly illustrated with maps and images, this book is a model of how to use unusual evidence to recover the past. 

By Joseph S. Wood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New England Village as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New England village, with its white-painted, black-shuttered, classical-revival buildings surrounding a tree-shaded green, is one of the enduring icons of the American historical imagination. Associated in the popular mind with a time of strong community values, discipline, and economic stability, the village of New England is for many the archetypal "city on a hill." Yet in The New England Village, Joseph S. Wood argues that this village is a nineteenth-century place and its association with the colonial past a nineteenth-century romantic invention.

New England colonists brought with them a cultural predisposition toward dispersed settlements within agricultural spaces called "towns"…

Book cover of All Our Yesterdays: A Century of Family Life in an American Small Town

Mary Babson Fuhrer Why did I love this book?

When the Robertsons bought their 18th-century home in Hampton, Ct., they inherited an unparalleled lode of documents assembled over 100 years of the previous owners’ history. Starting in the 1790s, the Traintors saved, it seems, every bit of paper that came through their hands: from private letters and business accounts, to pamphlets, social invitations, school records, and, of course books. The Robertsons spent years digesting this remarkable trove. In this book, they “open out” the evidence – as Laurel Ulrich did for Martha Ballard’s diary – in a way that transforms it into a moving and deeply intimate story of family life and community change in a small New England town. I found their tale – told often in the Taintors’ own words – to be vivid, immediate, a surprisingly frank, personal, and moving story.

By James Oliver Robertson, Janet C. Robertson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All Our Yesterdays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Examines 150 years of the social life and customs of a small New England town through letters and other documents belonging to the family that built and lived in the authors' house in Hampton, Connecticut

Book cover of The Transcendentalists and Their World

Mary Babson Fuhrer Why did I love this book?

Bob Gross, knowing that we shared an interest in New England towns in the early Republic, generously shared drafts of each chapter of this magisterial work. I was astonished. The depth and range of his research are unparalleled. In a life-work 45 years in the making, Bob has culled evidence on Concord from every conceivable source, showing the rest of us how it’s done. He has reconstructed families and linked neighbors through church, farm, business, political, and religious activities, using this to reconstruct the life of the town. Bob knows his people so well that I am convinced he has accurately captured their personalities, dynamics, and conflicts. It is rare that we can have such confidence in “knowing” the past. In engaging prose, he presents individuals actively shaping – or resisting change in their town, and ultimately, their world.

By Robert A. Gross,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Transcendentalists and Their World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of The Wall Street Journal's 10 best books of 2021
One of Air Mail's 10 best books of 2021
Winner of the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize

In the year of the nation’s bicentennial, Robert A. Gross published The Minutemen and Their World, a paradigm-shaping study of Concord, Massachusetts, during the American Revolution. It won the prestigious Bancroft Prize and became a perennial bestseller. Forty years later, in this highly anticipated work, Gross returns to Concord and explores the meaning of an equally crucial moment in the American story: the rise of Transcendentalism.

The Transcendentalists and Their World…

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Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story-lover Middle East expert Curious Iconoclast Optimist

Ethan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…

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Interested in New England, villages, and the Puritans?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New England, villages, and the Puritans.

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