Reviews for The Revolutionary

by Stacy Schiff

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

A Harvard graduate, a failure at private business ventures, and an inept public tax collector, Samuel Adams immersed himself in politics. A cousin of future president John Adams, he was a fiery patriot whose early espousal of colonial rights in Massachusetts blossomed into intense advocacy for full independence from Great Britain. He had a hand in whipping up sentiment among fellow colonials to forcefully resist British attempts to enforce its tax levies. So radical were Samuel Adams’ ideas that he was surreptitious in attending meetings and took care to destroy correspondence so that there would be no hard evidence for the British to accuse him of treasonable words or deeds. In Adams’ view, two things were critical to the success of the Revolution and to the sustaining of a republic: virtue and education. To that end, Adams worked as Massachusetts’ governor to promote morality among his fellow citizens and to ensure sound public schooling, particularly encouraging women’s education. Schiff (The Witches, 2015) keeps Samuel Adams’ story lively even through what might be the otherwise tedious minutiae of the Stamp Act.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A new book from Pulitzer Prize–winning, powerhouse historian Schiff is always an event.


Publishers Weekly
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Pulitzer winner Schiff (The Witches) delivers a revelatory and frequently riveting account of the life of founding father Samuel Adams (1722–1803). Portraying Adams as both a pious Puritan and a man of action, who “muscled words into deeds” in the cause of American independence, and whose destruction of most of his personal papers opened the door for adversaries to characterize him as a propagandist who provoked mob violence, Schiff begins the narrative with a dramatic description of the opening stages of the Revolutionary War, revealing that the main objective of Paul Revere’s ride was to warn Adams that the British were coming. From there, Schiff retraces Adams’s early years in Boston, his entry into Harvard at age 14, and the “financial catastrophe” that rocked the family when the British parliament dissolved a Massachusetts land bank cofounded by his father. “Vigilance in civic life,” writes Schiff, “had been inculcated in at an early age.” By the late 1740s, he was writing political pieces for local newspapers and soon became a leading opponent of new tariffs and regulations on the colonies. Throughout, Schiff vividly recounts major events in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War, including the Stamp Act Crisis, the Boston Massacre, and the Boston Tea Party, and draws incisive sketches of Loyalist governor Thomas Hutchinson, Patriot lawyer James Otis, and others. Fast-paced and enlightening, this is a must-read for colonial history buffs. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME. (Oct.)


Library Journal
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Pulitzer Prize—winning biographer Schiff follows up The Witches: Salem, 1692 with a biography of Samuel Adams, a somewhat overlooked Founding Father known especially for his eloquence in rallying others to the cause of rebellion against the Crown. Relevant to our times, he was also a master of fake news.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author recounts Samuel Adams’ instrumental role in triggering the events that would lead to the American Revolution. Though he is typically overshadowed by such towering contemporaries as Washington, Jefferson, and Adams’ second cousin, John Adams, Samuel’s behind-the-scenes machinations were a crucial factor in setting in motion the wheels of revolution. In her latest, Schiff enthusiastically digs through much of the limited material available on her subject. In a calculated move, Samuel destroyed countless documents and most of his personal correspondence, leaving little for future biographers to unearth. “He operated by stealth, melting into committees and crowd actions, pseudonyms and smoky back rooms,” writes Schiff. “ ‘There ought to be a memorial to Samuel Adams in the CIA,’ quips a modern historian, dubbing him America’s first covert agent. We are left to read him in the twisted arm, the borrowed set of talking points, the indignation of America’s enemies. We know more about him from his apoplectic adversaries than from his friends, sworn to secrecy.” Schiff exhaustively dissects whatever was written about him by his contemporaries, and she also explores the numerous politically charged essays that he submitted under pseudonyms to newspapers such as the Boston Gazette, many of which openly criticized British colonial policy. Schiff provides a penetrating analysis of Samuel’s tactics and motivations, and in tracing his story from his unassuming and somewhat aimless roots as a failed businessman to his role as a highly influential American statesman, she reveals how his grounded idealism was present from the outset and remained consistent throughout his life. This is a meticulously researched and often eloquent work of historical biography, but it’s an occasionally dry cerebral exercise, lacking some of the author’s typical storytelling verve. Still, Schiff offers a welcome, fresh study featuring notions of liberty and democracy that feel particularly relevant in today’s consistently tumultuous political landscape. A sturdy portrait of Samuel Adams for our times. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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