Sunday Morning Book Review

The Revolutionary Paul Revere by Joel J. Miller is an action-packed account of the life of one of our country’s most romanticized historical figures. The author briefly discusses the events of Revere’s life while giving the subject due credit for being as significant to the Revolution as any Bostonian. This book reads like a report on Revere’s family, business, and on the events Revere was involved in while leaving out ideological or philosophical examinations of Revere’s political leanings. Revere was a patriot; that was his politics. And he expressed his patriotism in some incredible actions that still ring out in history with inspiring awe. This book captures those events with excitement. We recommend this to all.

Taught to us at an early age, Revere’s late night ride to warn the patriots at Lexington and Concord that the British army was on the way was a significant event in the creation of our country and Revere is the story’s undisputed hero. But his contribution to the fight for democracy was not limited to that one iconic horseback ride in 1775. Revere was the leader of the Boston harbor spy ring that kept tabs on all movements of the British army and navy, he participated in the Boston Tea Party, he attended rallies at the Liberty Tree, served in the Revolutionary War, and engraved one of the more famous depictions of the Boston Massacre. He also made numerous other rides as an express messenger from Boston to Philadelphia, which in those days on horseback through pitch black conditions and rough terrain was not an easy task.

Revere did all of this while owning a small business and raising a large family. As a professional he was considered an artisan which for Revere meant he was a blacksmith, wielder, mechanic, engraver, mill owner, innovator, and you can even add in dentist to his list of trades. At home he fathered eight children with his first wife who died of exhaustion. Then he fathered eight more with his second wife. Unfortunately Revere outlived most of his sixteen children.

As for his political views, the book does not touch on them much. There is the mention that Revere supported the ratification of the Constitution, but the author does not delve into why. Instead the focus is on the action, of which there is plenty. There is one great line on how Revere felt about the government’s involvement in economic matters; “there is no greater destroyer of wealth than misguided government.” Hear, hear.

The only disappointment I found from this book was that there was no emphasis on the famous ride to Lexington and Concord. The ride is of course included and told well, but in the book it stands shoulder to shoulder with the rest of his accomplishments. This is, however, consistent in the flow of the story, but I felt it failed to highlight the ride as the consequential moment that it was (for a great book on the ride itself check out Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer).

The book ends with the death of Revere at the old age of eighty-three. A sad but peaceful ending in how Revere lived through the Revolution while outliving so many close to him. The author quotes one of the notices published immediately after Revere’s passing that really captures his life, as well as the theme of this book; “a life so honorable and useful.”

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Sunday Morning Book Review

Igniting The American Revolution by Derek Beck takes the reader from the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to the Americans taking Fort Ticonderoga and then control of Lake Champlain in 1775. Only 270 pages, it’s a quick read through a fast-paced set of key events which propelled colonial America to war.

The beginning scene is what was then known as The Destruction of the Tea. The author explains how this was a protest that had a global impact and was conducted with the discipline of a military exercise. No one was allowed to steal any of the tea and the one who tried was quickly stopped and removed. We don’t have protests like that anymore.

The result of The Destruction of the Tea was Boston was put into a military controlled lockdown. General Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, is a major figure who the author treats fairly. His control over Boston is described as strong but never exceedingly harsh. While some of the soldiers behaved in ways that no one could defend, General Gage held his officers to the highest standards.

Other major figures in the book are heroic Paul Revere and traitorous Benjamin Church. Revere is properly described as brave, selfless and honest. His ride from out of Boston across the water to Charlestown then on to Lexington is one of most important events in American history and the author gives it its due credit. Also credited is Revere’s network of spies that had eyes on the British from Boston harbor to the outskirts of Charlestown. Revere and his network sounded the alarm in the countryside that the redcoats were coming. Note; it is unlikely Revere was saying the “British are coming” and the author rightly points this out.

Church was also part of a spy network, but for the other side. He gave intelligence to the British and likely directly to Gage himself. His treachery is listed throughout.

The most detail can be found in the descriptions of the military structure on both sides and in their movements engaging each other first at Lexington and then at Concord. Greater detail is offered in a lengthy appendix section (14 in all).

The title suggests a comprehensive account of the lead-up to war, but the attention hardly leaves New England. As a Virginian I was not expecting this but don’t take this as criticism because keeping things in Massachusetts allowed the book to flow very smoothly from the key events of the Boston Tea Party to the first shots of the war at the battle of Lexington and Concord.

This is an outstanding book.

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Sunday Morning Book Review

1776 by David McCullough is a great book that follows the Continental Army for the year as they fight the British for independence. The book takes the reader from the stalemate win in Boston in the beginning of the year to the historic victory in the Battle of Trenton to close the year, as well through all the loses, the hardships, and the near finishing blows for our American rebels.

The author rightly concludes that the British did not understand the conflict of which they were engaged. The Brits fought a conventional style war where they went after choice territory instead of just trying to slaughter the American ragtag army. In the Battle of Long Island the British could have kept going after their big win and taken all of New York in one big sweep that would have destroyed our army and it is highly unlikely that the congress would have been able to recruit a new one, thus ending the war then. Other small fights followed and the Americans continued to lose. It wasn’t until the difficult winter that George Washington was able to muster up a huge win when he famously led our troops across the Delaware River to take Trenton on Christmas Day.

General Washington is the focal point of the author’s attention. Other than the British almost destroying the American army, Washington had to worry about the congress destroying the army’s funds. Pay was often late, supplies were short, and decisions delayed. Washington had a difficult time trying to get what he needed from congress. His letters to John Hancock and John Adams are quoted throughout the book and they vividly illustrate Washington’s frustrations. Also, Washington was forced to keep together a group of civilian first time soldiers who had yet to unite under a national banner. Militias were loyal to their state and this created rivalry and division among the Continental Army. The Declaration of Independence, which came in that summer, helped to unite, but the spirit of ’76 was for independence from the British, the spirit to unite as a nation came later.

Overall this is a great book. It receives our highest recommendation.

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Sunday Morning Book Review

This week we are reviewing Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. This book recounts the efforts of the early United States to combat high jacking and capture of American merchant ships passing through the Mediterranean.

This turned out to be a pretty exciting book about adventure on the high seas. The pages include naval battles, shipwrecks, lots of captures, enslavements, ransoms, tributes and there is even a sword fight scene that would have been fit for the silver screen.

The diplomatic chess game in the late 1700s and early 1800s was incredibly slow due to having to cross the Atlantic Ocean by boat. The exchange of information on the progress of negotiations was a crawl, while captured Americans waited in enslavement camps. Years went by before some were released.

The US Marine Corps has a special place in all of this. Their presence in North Africa was the first time they were deployed to foreign soil, memorialized in the Marines’ Hymn in the line “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli.”

I draw issue with the title. While Jefferson was the commander in chief at the end who gave the order to precede with full military action against the Tripoli pirates, he was not the only president who had to deal with them. The book begins with Presidents George Washington and then John Adams having to negotiation tribute. Cheers to Washington and Adams for having the foresight to build up the navy while these negotiations were going on. By the time the book gets to Jefferson he is then hardly mentioned as the action in the Mediterranean heats up. Moreover, the pirates who were protected by the government in Tripoli were not the only group causing problems for us. We had to negotiate with the heads of Tangier, Algiers and Tunis. So the book could have been called The United States and the Barbary Coast Pirates.

This is a pretty exciting book and a fairly quick read. We recommend it to any fans of military history and/or fans of the Founding Fathers.

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