TURNING THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN by John Tebbel

TURNING THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN

Inside the American Revolution
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Based largely on eyewitness accounts, this reconstruction of ``the best known and least understood major event in our history'' depicts the American Revolution not as a rational movement based on Locke's ideas--but as a conflict buffeted by the passions of unruly men. The title refers not only to the song played by the British at their Yorktown surrender but also to the upheaval caused by the eight-year conflict. Although his descriptions of the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party push his narrative off to a rousing, iconoclastic start, Tebbel (coauthor, The Magazine in America, 1991, etc.) doesn't expand the pre-Revolutionary era beyond the Massachusetts theater and can't quite maintain the breathless pace of these set pieces. In his eagerness to save the American Revolution from mummification, he uses present tense and colloquial narration, sometimes to arch effect (``And where is our boy Lafayette?''). He also exaggerates our contemporary glorification of the war (every schoolkid still knows that these were ``the times that try men's souls''). But Tebbel does detail to often stunning effect the problems that plagued the patriots: starving and badly paid soldiers; a citizenry as apathetic as it was opportunistic; a dithering and impotent Continental Congress; recruiting scandals; profiteering contractors; and vicious attacks and reprisals by rebels and loyalists. Although the author admires George Washington for his dogged perseverance and Daniel Morgan for his buckskin charisma, he takes pleasure in the portrait dipped in acid-- including ones of Samuel Adams, the Boston firebrand never squeamish about bending truth in the service of propaganda; John Paul Jones, the tyrannical sea-dog-turned-legend by refusing to give up the battle; and General Charles Lee, Washington's one-time second-in-command, a misanthrope who loved dogs more than people- -and who, while in prison, plotted to betray the rebels. Not quite the bottom-rail view of history to which it aspires, nor as revisionist as it hopes--but often vividly impressionistic. (Four maps)

Pub Date: July 4th, 1993
ISBN: 0-517-58955-9
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1993