Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Storozynski debuts with a biography of an exemplary Polish engineer who fought for liberty in Poland and in America.
Fired up by the Enlightenment notions of liberty and equality then being tested in the American colonies, Thaddeus Kosciuszko jumped at the chance to aid the Patriots; he would return later to his country and inject these incendiary ideas into the ailing old order. Forced to flee his homeland because of a failed elopement that provoked the ire of the girl’s father, Kosciuszko was among the first foreign officers shipped to America in June 1776, as part of French playwright Beaumarchais’s secret mission—financed by the French crown—to aid the fledgling revolutionaries. Soon after his arrival, he ingratiated himself with Benjamin Franklin and distinguished himself in his work as an engineer outlining and preparing defenses against British attack. At General Washington’s behest, Kosciuszko was instrumental in fortifying West Point, despite Benedict Arnold’s attempts to undermine its strength. Humble, loyal and staunchly abolitionist, Kosciuszko returned to Poland after seven years of war, where he pushed for the enfranchisement of serfs and Jews in the bold May 3, 1791, Constitution, the first in Europe. Autonomy was not forthcoming, however, and the Polish revolution was quickly quelled. Despite Kosciuszko’s pleas to his friend Thomas Jefferson and to Napoleon, no one helped the Poles. Storozynski proves a dutiful, attentive biographer, but the narrative suffers from an uneven pace and merely serviceable prose.
A rousingly sympathetic portrayal, but workmanlike and occasionally clunky.