Monday, July 4, 2016

Bunker Hill, John Adams, and Nathaniel Philbrick

This Book R & R is about "Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution" by Nathaniel Philbrick

I know it sounds incredibly geeky, but I just finished reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Bunker Hill,” and I’m watching the HBO series “John Adams,” both on the Fourth of July. Perhaps it is coincidence, but let me briefly tell you how this has come about.

My posts have been few over the last two years due to the fact that I have been completing a masters degree in education and earning my California teaching credential in social studies. Last fall I did my student teaching in US history and economics. The day after that was concluded I began a long term substitution teaching world history for the remainder of the year. I also have the opportunity to teach civics and economics during summer school, which started the week after the spring semester ended. So within the last year I have taught four different classes for the first time. As you can imagine, that required a great deal of preparation time that normally would have been spent reading books of my own choosing. Spending all of that time prepping for classes and grading papers of course did not prevent me from buying new books. My shelves are full of unread titles waiting for their turn.

Nathaniel Philbrick is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. I picked up a copy of Bunker Hill some time ago. Teaching civics this summer brought with it a new excitement for learning about the founding. (I am now working on “Plain, Honest Men” by Richard Beeman.) So I finally picked up Philbrick’s book and it immediately grabbed my attention. Of course, I knew it would. Bunker Hill has the same level of detail that Philbrick put into “The Last Stand” so that while with this book you might not feel like you are with the patriots, you certainly are standing at a window watching the goings on. I actually have a criticism. The book should not have been titled “Bunker Hill” because it gives the potential reader the idea that it is specifically about that battle. I actually asked myself before reading the book, how much do I really need to know about the battle of Bunker Hill? Well, the title is a misnomer.

Bunker Hill, as the subtitle states, is about the siege of Boston. It begins with the arrival of British troops in response to the unrest over the stamp act. It ends with the British withdrawal from the city. In between you will read about the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, the battles of Lexington and Concord, the formation of the Continental Army and the trials faced by George Washington in attaining his goal of expelling the British from Boston. You will of course read about the battle of Bunker Hill and understand what it was, who took part in it, and what the effects of it were on the larger story of the beginning of the Revolution, although that is actually only a fraction of the book.

At 295 pages, “Bunker Hill” is not a major life commitment. It paces well and keeps the reader’s attention. It’s good history, with no bias, reinterpretation, or analysis. Not only did I enjoy the book, but I feel like I can now see the real history, separated from the modern mythology that has grown up around the founding and the beginning of the revolution. And what does this have to do with binge watching HBO’s “John Adams”? Well…I really did take advantage of the holiday weekend to finish reading “Bunker Hill” and it just put me in the mood to watch “John Adams” again. Am I a geeky patriot or what? But you know, the first hour and a half of that series makes so much more sense now. I understand more of the references made in the dialog now that I have the background on the subject. So this summer, get your patriotic history geek on. 

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