Book Review: The Adams Gambit: A Thieftaker Novella by D. B. Jackson (four stars)

Book Review: The Adams Gambit: A Thieftaker Novella by D. B. Jackson (four stars)

“You’re a good man, Kaille. Sometimes I fear you’re too good.”

Excellent historical fiction novella. With a side of the mystical.  Jackson continues to develop Ethan Kaille into a nexus for the unraveling threads of British hegemony in Boston in the 1770s. Players on the great stage of American independence have walk-on parts in this thieftaker tale.

“One grows accustomed to such attention after a time.” “No,” Warren said, “one really doesn’t.”

Characters are varied and well-developed. Ensemble players from the series return and new characters appear. Despite everyone’s agnosticism toward the Salem trials a century before, witches and conjurers abound. And they’re real.

“She won’t be happy with me.” “Well, it wouldn’t be morning in Boston if Sephira Pryce wasn’t unhappy with you over something.”

Quibble: a round trip to Philadelphia would be the stuff of weeks if not months. Travel in general is too fast and too easy. Except when it fits the plot to not be.

“All’s calm just now, but I believe that’s an illusion.”

Book review: Revolutionaries by Jack N. Rakove (four stars plus)

Book review: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack N. Rakove (four stars plus)

“Washington never allowed the army to disdain its civilian superiors. Fabius was the role circumstances forced him to play, Cincinnatus the character his own more closely resembled.”

If you read only one history book about the American revolutionary period, read this one. That said, readers without a passing knowledge of the 1770s and 80s may get lost in Rakove frequent digressions and flashbacks within flashbacks.

“Where the ideologue Adams believed that a raw lust for power was driving Britain’s leaders to seek dominion over America, Morris preferred to blame obtuse stupidity and miscalculation. But both agreed that British missteps, rather than American desires, had brought the colonies to the point of independence.”

Rakove is of the people-make-history school, but also posits that some people rise to the challenge better than others. This collection of mini biographies is fleshed out by considering more than the obvious giants of the age.

Madison was at once a constitutional radical, celebrating the capacity of his countrymen to rethink basic questions of republican government, and a political conservative who never underestimated the risks they were taking. That too was part of his political genius.”

Unlike so many modern historians, Rakove keeps his opinions to himself and does not batter the reader with his agenda. There’s plenty of credit and blamer for most everything that went right and wrong.

“All of them shared that one characteristic that Hamilton memorialized in Nathanael Greene. ‘Those great revolutions which sometimes convulse society,’ Hamilton reminded his brother officers of the Cincinnati, had also this merit: ‘that they serve to bring to light talents and virtues which might otherwise have languished in obscurity or only shot forth a few scattered and wandering rays.’”

Book Review: John Adams Under Fire by Dan Adams (Four Stars)

Book Review: John Adams Under Fire: The Founding Father’s Fight for Justice in the Boston Massacre Murder Trial by Dan Adams and David Fisher (Four Stars)

“Counsel ought to be the very last thing that an accused person should want in a free country… The bar ought…to be independent and impartial at all times and in every circumstance.” JA

A dry, over-detailed analysis of a trial 250 years ago. What possible relevance or interest might it have to Americans today? Lot.

“It was a love of universal liberty, and a hatred, a dread, a horror of the infernal confederacy…that projected, conducted and accomplished the settlement of America.” JA

In 1770 John Adams defended nine British soldiers accused of killing five men during the so-called Boston Massacre. No one doubted the lethal shots came from the soldiers’ muskets; Sam Adams, leading Boston patriot, wanted ‘blood for blood’; If Young John Adams took the defense he’d ruin his budding law career and jeopardize his place among those leaning ever more toward independence. He did anyway. And he won.

“Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty.” JA

Dan Adams meticulously documents how John Adams and Boston got to that point. In the process the reader learns how common law and English law became American law. And how the least-likeable Founder become a beacon for justice for all, and “reasonable doubt” appeared as a judicial standard.

“Adams had proved his fidelity to a much greater cause: in the words of the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero, ‘We are all servants of the laws in order to be free.’”

Modern parallels abound. Hypocrisy, interfering governments, biased media reporting, conspiracy theories, public outcry and pressure. History matters.

“Yet John Adams took the defense, even though he knew it would cost him business and stature among the growing independence movement. It the short term it did, but his careful and successful defense started him on the road to leadership in the nation that was birthing.”

Book Review: Special Operations in the American Revolution by Robert Tonsetic (Four Stars)


Book Review: Special Operations in the American Revolution by Robert Tonsetic

(Four Stars)

Granting that pretty much the whole Revolutionary War was a special operation, Tonsetic explores lesser-known examples how patriots overcame the usually more numerous, better-equipped British, Hessian and loyal forces.

Tonsetic examines the evolution of patriot, and occasionally loyalist, tactics over the course of the war. Marines landing in the Bahamas, whaleboat wars in the north, using swamps as cover, forces marches and most important of all surprise were all in the patriot’s tool bag. The fighting ended with a European-style siege at Yorktown, but it was special operations that wore the British down as Washington managed to keep his army and the cause alive.

Well-researched, well-written. Good maps.

Reconciling Irreconcilables

image from www.history.comHave you noticed the Alexander Hamilton worship? Paradoxically, many of his acolytes also adulate Thomas Jefferson.

In life, they were bitter opponents and greatly disliked each other personally. How do we reconcile the current love of both? Revisionist history, rose-colored glasses, and two centuries remove.image from

They were both great men, though they differed in almost every way. Our nation was fortunate to have both among its founders. If we hadn’t (along with G. Washington, B. Franklin and a few others), America might have gone the way of the French Revolution, which would have been fine with one of them.

Do We Sponsor Terrorism?

While we rightly revile terrorists or whatever ideology who commit atrocities such as recently transpired in France and Nigeria, history suggests that terrorists are even worse when they gain control of a nation or become a nation.

Yes, today’s terrorist are often radical Islamists, but not all. Fifty years ago the threat was Marxist terrorism. A hundred years ago, a nationalist assassin in Sarajevo started the First World War. Worrisome as are the radicals who terrorize peaceful populations, the greater threat to world peace are those in Nigeria, Syria, North Korea, Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan who seek to establish themselves are legitimate nation-states without Continue reading

Reluctant Revolutionary

“No court, perhaps, followed more assiduously or more closely, in outward show at least, in the path of the [eighteenth century] French court than that of the Landgraves of Hesse-Cassel. The expense of all these buildings and gardens was enormous, but there was generally money in the treasury. Yet the land was a poor land. The three or four hundred thousand inhabitants lived chiefly by the plough, but the Landgraves were in business. It was a profitable trade that they carried on, selling or letting out wares which were much in demand in that century, as in all centuries, for the Landgraves of Hesse-Cassel were dealers in men; thus it came to pass that Landgrave Frederick II and his subjects played a part in American history, and that “Hessian” became a household word, though not a title of honor, in the United States.”

Edward J. Lowell published those words in 1884, opening his work discussing the introduction of the German soldiers we call “Hessians” onto the stage of American history.

My great (times five) grand father was one of those Hessians. I hope to discover the history of him and his fellows and perhaps put it to paper.

My first task–well, my second as my brother has already located many biographical details of my forefather’s life–will be to read the three hundred plus pages of this weighty tome, as the scholarly style of over a century ago sounds Teutonic.

I’ll keep you informed.