Friday, December 16, 2005

"Listen, my children, and you shall hear ..."

I started out this year planning to comment on books I was reading as I finished them. For the most part, I haven't done that after all, spending more time on other issues and writing what I did write about books mainly for print publication.

I have to break out of that habit for this one, though -- Paul Revere's Ride, by David Hackett Fischer. This is not a new book, copyright 1996 I believe, but it is fascinating, a terrific blend of biography and political/military history. Fischer has enough material for two books here, the biography of Revere itself, but also an hour-by-hour account of the events of April 1775, demonstrating his stated thesis -- that history does not tell of a lonely midnight rider or two, but actually a well-organized group of civic leaders throughout New England, keeping in close contact by means of signal and courier, and an effective network of surveillance and intelligence interlocking with the Whig political leadership and the militias of the villages across Massachusetts and Connecticut.

While Paul Revere did ride that night, he rode on many nights and many missions, and he was only the foremost of dozens of other couriers who carried the alarm of April 18. Although I was concerned that Fischer's book might be a revisionist work to downplay the contribution of a loved folk hero, in fact the reality he brings out places Revere in a less romantic but much more deliberate, influential, and noble role all along.

This is great reading and highly recommended. There is some profanity, quoted directly from the soldiery, and some observations in the early chapters about the practices of vice - mainly prostitution - as adapted to still-Puritan Boston, so a bit of editing is in order if shared with a younger audience.

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