Hendrik van Loon was one of those great writers of an earlier age who could make a reference book read like a great novel. I read his Geography for fun. While his book on the history of America is weighed down a bit by the classical liberal tone of Gibbon and co., it is still chock full of entertaining anecdotes and eminently quotable snippets. Here he is writing about how historians decide to identify motives:
When the authors of most of those learned volumes write about a shipload of English adventurers approaching these shores, there is a hush upon the landscape, the children of Israel are about to cross the river Jordan and take possession of that Promised Land which never really belonged to the poor Canaanites (who have lived there since the beginning of time) and which is now awaiting the hallowed touch of the rightful owners.
But when a Swede or a Dutchman, let alone a German, decides to sink a few florins or crowns or thalers into American real estate and when he fits out a ship of his own and braves a thousand dangers and painfully establishes himself in a mosquito-ridden swamp of the Delaware River or in the heart of Connecticut, there are signs of great agitation among the professors.
Either the “King of Swedes is bitten with the bug of colonization” or “a group of Amsterdam merchants hoped to swell their profits by selling gunpowder and schnapps to the Indians” or “a family of Augsburg bankers was seeking to increase its millions by the exploitation of recently discovered gold mines” or words to that effect.
(The Story of America, 113–114)