Friday, May 2, 2014

Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick

Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution is the story of the events leading up to the Revolutionary War and the people who influenced those events.  Philbrick focuses on three sets of individuals; those who supported independence, those who were loyalists to the English Crown, and the huge group in the middle who had to make up their minds which of the more extreme groups on the edges they would support.

This is an evenhanded retelling of the events; the mistakes made by each side that racketed up the tension, the personalities that were making the decisions, and the slowness of communications that added to the issues.  There were misconceptions on both sides.  The patriots, for the most part, supported King George, believing that he loved his colonies, and that he was misadvised by his advisers.  The Crown believed that the issues in the colonies were just minor problems and that there was little support for those who would make changes.  They believed it was unlikely that the average American would actually fight.  They chose to crack down rather than work with those who felt that too many taxes and money were being taken from the colonies.

Each of the battles and events are meticulously researched and reported.  The Boston Massacre, the fight along the Lexington/Concord roads, the battles at Bunker Hill, and the siege of Boston afterwards by the patriots is covered in great detail.  It may be surprising to many readers how violent the fighting was.  In an hour and a half at Bunker Hill, the British sustained injuries or death to half their fighting forces; over a thousand.  The patriots had 115 killed and over 300 injured.

In addition to the battles and military strategy, Philbrick spends time covering the personalities that led the fight for independence.  Many of these names are familiar; Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, John Adams.  But many influential figures are less well-known.  Philbrick covers the various military leaders with their fighting backgrounds.  He also spends time covering the story of a thirty-three year old physician named Joseph Warren.  Killed at Bunker Hill, he was instrumental in the months leading up to the fight and many believe would have been the military leader instead of Washington had he survived.

This book is recommended for readers of history, and those who are interested in how our nation was created.  Both strengths and weaknesses of the Founding Fathers are covered.  The scope of the tension and the incredible decision by farmers and woodsmen that they would rather fight than submit to overseas dominion was almost unbelievable.  Readers will find the book lively and entertaining while incredibly detailed; it is not a dry history at all.  This is another stellar effort by Philbrick whose name has come to mean well-researched and written historical accounts.

Update:  This wonderful historical fiction has just been released in paperback.  I highly recommend you give it a try.

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