Thursday, November 06, 2014

Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick

Some of our understanding of history may be similar to Bluto Blutarski's rant in "Animal House" about who attacked Pearl Harbor.  When it comes to the battle of Bunker Hill most of us know it began at the beginning of the American Revolution and that's about it.  If you want the politics, social pressures and sometimes a day by day account of the time from just before to a bit after that fateful battle, this book is for you.

If you are not familiar with Philbrick, a number of his books have focused on New England, from the Pilgrim's colonization of the area to the whaling ship that was the basis for the story of Moby Dick.  He tends to give about as much detail as he can find on the event in a reasonably good narrative that can sometimes be a little much but at other times is quite compelling.  This book is no different.

He presents a theory that neither the Boston Massacre nor Lexington and Concord should be considered the beginning of the revolution, but the battle called Bunker Hill, even though most of the battle itself was on an adjacent rise called Breed's Hill.  Since he gives a good account of the events leading up to the massacre and then each major event thereafter, you can make your own conclusion. I think he makes his case and gives a very good understanding of why each event occurred,  its degree of importance at the time, and the longer term effect it had on the colonies and their slow merging into a nation.

When we learn of these type of things in school, the events seem to plod along with a certain inevitability and are conducted by individuals painted only in black and white.  In Philbrick's telling, the British just want the colonists of New England to dial it back a bit and did so by treating the North Americans with much more leniency and understanding than was the case with their other colonies.  In turn, the colonists who pushed the matter into revolution were not purely idealists but individuals for whom almost any degree of control or outside government was too much.  The revolution's success was not a foregone conclusion, but the events at the very beginning of the revolution set the country up for possible success.  It's a worthwhile read.

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