A brisk, lightweight overview of the beginnings of the American Revolution, tracing the reactions of patriots and loyalists as news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord traveled from Boston through New York and Philadelphia to the southern states and abroad.
The text zigzags awkwardly between reporting of the battles themselves and the progress of the news, and extended flashbacks and flash-forwards to future events create an anthology of anecdotes rather than a synthesis. The narrative thread is overwhelmed by descriptions of major and minor participants in the action. Hallahan (Misfire, 1994) conscientiously studs his descriptions with striking details—Daniel Leonard’s gold-trimmed cloak, John Hancock’s ravenous appetite—but the parade of brief, stereotypical sketches inevitably palls without the evocation of a larger context. The description of the arrival of the news in New York has some flair, conveying the frantic scrambles of the city’s Loyalist aristocrats, and the “Philadelphia” chapter offers memorable vignettes of women who claimed the Revolution as their own cause. That chapter also reflects Pennsylvania’s religious diversity, but African-Americans and the substantial number of non-British immigrants get short shrift throughout. Instead, Hallahan recapitulates already-familiar material, such as George Washington’s competition with Charles Lee for the command of the Continental Army, and the delivery of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech at the Second Virginia Convention earlier in 1775. Discussions of major figures are marred by sweeping, unsupportable pronouncements (such as Hallahan’s claim that Samuel Adams “invented the art of revolution”). The last chapter offers follow-up information on the major characters; a useful appendix lists “Drumbeats toward Revolution” from 1760 to 1775.
The premise has the potential to pull together a wide range of responses to the first battles of the Revolution, but slick, simplistic prose and one-dimensional characterizations create the flat effect of advertising copy, not the complexity and texture of history. (illustrations)