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Tom Alderman

Tom Alderman

Posted: December 10, 2008 03:48 PM

The Man With Big Orenda - An Audio Book Review


TITLE: "Champlain's Dream"
AUTHOR: David Hackett Fischer, "Washington's
Crossing," "Paul Revere's Ride"
GENRE: History and Leadership
LENGTH: 10 hrs - abridgment
PUBLISHER: Simon and Shuster Audio
NARRATOR: Edward Hermann. "The Path Between the
Seas," "The Day After Tomorrow""

LOG LINE
Samuel de Champlain's amazing adventures of exploration, Indian battles and nation-building in French Canada and America.

COMMENT
Samuel de Champlain had exceptional qualities: skilled soldier, master navigator, explorer, cartographer, lobbyist and community organizer. To the Algonquin tribes of the Northeast, Champlain also had ORENDA, powerful ORENDA - which may explain this French bourgeois' great success in creating lasting societies in Quebec, along the St. Lawrence River and, yes, around Lake Champlain. Orenda is spiritual power for doing good. In a land dominated by disparate native tribes, some wanting trade, others wanting scalps, having good orenda is a must.

With Edward Hermann's comfortably pitched narration, a listener is well guided through Champlain's singular adventures in the area now encompassing Quebec, The Maritime Provinces, and New England. It's also a story about effective leadership and perseverance, as relevant today, as it was in the 17th century. Champlain had Olympic-level perseverance. Like every executive, entrepreneur or adventurer, he had to constantly scrounge capital from hesitant investors, survive incompetent bosses and lobby the levers of political influence at the French court where top management changed as much as Hollywood studios. Throughout the decades, Champlain was in-and-out of favor, depending on who was running things at Monarch central.

And that's just the French side of his job. He also had to endure 27 Atlantic crossings in boats that did, or often did not, move by wind and sail. He overcame disease, survived harsh winters with few provisions, and started new settlements that failed while trying to establish robust trade and thriving colonies within a land of tribal warfare. Later historians would call him the Father of New France. But in his lifetime, no such adulation. He was unceremoniously dumped after 30 years of remarkable service with out so much as a thank you, land grant or royal title from his employer, Louis, XIII, or his Chief Operating Officer, Cardinal Richelieu. Writer Fischer calls it 'the ingratitude of princes.' Oh, and his marriage fell apart somewhere along the line too. Yet, none of these obstacles ever stopped the man from pushing through with achieving his dream of enlightened settlements in New France.

That's why Champlain matters. He had an abiding respect for the native Americans who lived here. That alone elevates him among other New World colonizers.
Something extraordinary happened in New France during the early 17th century, writes Fischer. Something different from what took place in New Spain or New England, and New Netherland. Champlain was able to maintain good relations with native American more effectively than any other colonizing power. He didn't try to conquer them and compel them to work, like New Spain. He did not abuse them as in Virginia. Or drive them away as in New England, writes Fischer.

This was an area harshly fractured between Champlain's trading partners of the Algonquin, Huron, Montagnais, Abanaki and Ojibwa versus their hated enemies of the Iroquois League - Mohawks, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca. Sort of like red tribes, blue tribes.

Whatever their color, all tribes subscribed to the rule of justice by retaliation, meaning - punish a wrong with a greater wrong. The consequencs were astonishing ritual torture, dismemberment and cannibalism of men, women and children, all described in some detail here.

Champlain's success was largely due to his singular ability to recruit divergent people to his cause. He worked the French Court with its many competeting spheres of influence. He coaxed cooperation from wary Indian tribes who spoke many different languages. He was even able to bridge the harsh ideological divide separating French Catholic and Huguenots settlers under his command.

Champlain understood diversity because he came from diversity. Unlike the titled class, Champlain grew up in an area that bordered between different cultures and regions in France. He learned respect and compassion. Which is why in a world dominated by disparate tribes, some wanting trade, others wanting scalps, Champlain's story is as relevant today as it was over 400 years ago.

BOTTOM LINE
Whether you're into history, biography, adventure or effective leadership, this is an entertaining and worthwhile listen. Champlain's Dream could be sub-titled: "Humanistic Leadership in Building Organizations."