Fischer on Paul Revere and the American Revolution
RJO’s Reviews on Amazon.com
These brief book reviews have been posted to Amazon.com, and they may be viewed there in their original form either collectively (on my public reviews page) or individually (by following the link at each title below).
“That Memory May Their Deed Redeem”
Paul Revere’s Ride
David Hackett Fischer
Oxford University Press, 1995
Paul Revere’s Ride is a masterpiece of American history. Although the book’s title might suggest a narrow work, this is in fact a comprehensive account of the beginning of the American nation on April 19th, 1775. Using Paul Revere’s midnight ride “through every Middlesex village and farm” as a central thread, Fischer weaves together an intricate history of early New England politics and society. Along the way he teaches us about the psychology of war, the organization of armies, the power of popular uprisings, and the role of personal agency in history.
The greater part of the book is an hour-by-hour and often minute-by-minute account of the events of April 18th and 19th at Lexington and Concord. During the night of the 18th a detachment of troops from the British garrison in Boston was sent to capture the colonists’ supply of arms at Concord, eighteen miles to the west. By the end of the day the British had suffered more than 270 casualties and the sun was setting on the remains of an empire. Quoting the novelist Henry James, Fischer shows how the battles that day formed the hinge “on which the large revolving future was to turn.”
The quantity of primary source material that exists for this one day in American history is extraordinary, and Fischer and his students have processed it all in an exemplary fashion. Their close scholarship does not intrude on the reading text, but is instead displayed in comprehensive endnotes for those readers who wish to seek out further details.
Every American should know the story that is told in Paul Revere’s Ride. But it shouldn’t be a book just for Americans: all people fighting for their homes and their freedom, in any age and on any continent, can learn from and be inspired by the story of the farmers of Massachusetts on that April morning those many years ago. This is a book for all lovers of liberty, wherever they may be.
© RJO 1995–2016