Book Review: The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch (Three Stars)


Book Review: The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

(Three Stars)

“Could I have foreseen what I have and am like to experience, no consideration upon earth should have induced me to accept this command.” GW

Two hundred pages of information crammed into four hundred pages of exposition. Ends every chapter with a teaser to the next and opens every chapter with a recapitulation of the previous materials. Often reintroduces each character with a short biography. As if they assume the readers can’t remember. Or they’re paid by the word.

“Though Washington doesn’t know it yet, Tryon’s plot has infiltrated his own army, reaching those in whom the general has placed his greatest trust.”

Nonetheless, a good connect-the-dots inquiry into the plots and counterplots of both sides in 1775-76 New York City. The role of Royal Governor William Tryon and his minions is exhaustively enumerated.

“Americans didn’t even know there was a Culper Ring until the 1930s. That’s how good its members were at keeping secrets.”

The first sentence is a paraphrase of Wikipedia, but still wrong. The Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge was published in 1858 to set the record straight because others had sensationalized and misrepresented the whole business. It was tabloid grist, not a deep, dark secret.

“Rarely does Washington overtly evoke religion in his writing, but he sometimes refers to the semi-spiritual idea of “Providence”—a sense of fate that lies beyond mortal hands.”

Malarkey. The twenty-first century redefinition of George Washington’s spirituality continues. Providence was not a “semi-spiritual idea … of fate”; it was typical of polite conversation for that day. John Jay, whom everyone recognizes as a devote Christian, uses the same referent: “upon the whole I have reason to be satisfied with my share of the attention of Providence.” Either poor scholarship or an agenda.

“While many Americans at the time believed that the goal of the plot was to kill Washington, a plan to kidnap him may have been more likely.”

“It never got easy, and he never gave up.”

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