Historian Jefferson Dillman's Colonizing Paradise: Landscape and Empire in the British West Indies offers a succinct overview of how Europeans constructed “the landscape story” of the circum-Caribbean from 1492 to the early 1800s (p. 4). Its broadest argument is that a combination of preconceived expectations (derived initially from tropes about the Garden of Eden) and New World experiences (which rarely lived up to Edenic expectations) structured how Europeans saw and depicted the West Indies. Thus observers ranging from Christopher Columbus to poet James Grainger crafted dualistic visions of the West Indies in which the paradisiacal—reflected primarily in the abundance of Caribbean nature—and the pernicious—which took forms ranging from Satan to pirates and disease—coexisted in uneasy tension.

The book's approach consists primarily of analyzing published descriptions of flora, fauna, climates, topography, waters, diseases, colonization plans, and peoples through the interpretive lens of landscape....

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