11 February 2009


A.J. Langguth's Patriots was published in 1989, and I've had it on my bookshelf almost that long (not really, but it's been at least five years). The great thing about history is that it really doesn't change much and a well-written popular history, barring new scholarship, is still going to be interesting 20 or 50 or 100 years after publishing. Patriots is well-written popular history.

Which is not say everyone will fall in love with it or that it's the greatest book ever on the subject. For starters not everyone enjoys reading history (I blame teachers for that. I have a theory that there is nothing inherent in anyone's personality that will make them like or dislike history; instead it's the teachers you have the first couple years you have to take history in school. Doesn't matter what age, whether you first take history in fourth grade or seventh grade. If at least one of your first two teachers makes history interesting you stand a chance, but if they both suck you'll never be able to get into it, no chance. Anyway), although this at least is fun history. Really, what American can't at least sorta get into a story about the Revolution?

Langguth frankly admits in the acknowledgements that Revolutionary history suffers from a lack of, shall we say, academic agreement on what actually happened. To some degree all the writer of history can do is pick the least unlikely of the available options. We know Washington didn't chop down a cherry tree; what we don't know beyond a shadow of a doubt is what he did do. At least he left a lot of letters.

I've read a bit about the Revolution. Founding Brothers was great. One of the things I liked about this was Langguth's decision to cover James Otis and Samuel Adams as heavily as he did. Unfortunately the focus on Massachussetts meant I kept wanting to know more about what was going in the South. I'm sure there's a book out there like that, but the thing is, going in, I had heard the name James Otis once, but knew nothing about him, and all I knew about Samuel Adams was that he was a brewer (it turns he was not, in fact, a brewer. He made malt, but never actually brewed beer; also, he didn't really make much malt, either, and was usually broke). Following them was great; I had no idea how important Samuel Adams actually was to the early movement for independence.

It's a really big book, about 600 pages. If that's not daunting it's worth your time.

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