Review: Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution

Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution
Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A highly detailed historical account of events, culminating in a battle between the Continental militia and British regulars on Bunker Hill, just prior to the American declaration of Independence.

The narrative is finely, almost minutely, detailed – to the point of readers discovering how famished, and consequently disgruntled, warring soldiers and generals were at various points in the recounting. While one is transported into the climate, the geography, the events, and the mindsets of people in the times described, this reviewer, despite burning curiosity about his adopted nation’s history, found the author’s descriptions exhausting and above board. Are private lives of key folks really relevant to historical events that loom far above individual lives? Perhaps yes, if a historical narrative focuses upon characters within, but isn’t this work about Bunker Hill, war, and political and social events, and not about individuals’ marriages and their thoughts about personal lives? Nevertheless, the struggle for independence, its varied motivations, events leading up to conflict, and the battles planned and fought are indeed described comprehensively.

The photographic plates inset within were illuminating, though some -landscapes and maps – were hard to appreciate for a lay reader. Their addition to the historical narrative is rather helpful.

Aspects of the work were enlightening revelations to this reviewer. The Boston Tea Party, for instance, commonly supposed by most as a protest against unjust and excessive taxation, having pecuniary motivations on the part of local traders as a principal cause was quite a surprise. Equally astonishing is the fact that these early colonies enjoyed the utmost freedom of all among the colonial empire’s holdings, and yet desired and fought to be entirely independent despite a certain widespread affection maintained for the king of the empire. I begin to see why the continental leaders of that time were compelled to explain the tyranny, that they claimed to have suffered at the hands of said king, in their later declaration of independence from this ruler. I’d always wondered about that laundry list of complaints in such a solemn document.

Of particular interest is an added segment about Phillis Wheatley, an African American poetess of the time, who held publicly that “the insistence upon liberty by the patriots and their [simultaneous] tolerance of African American slavery” was a “strange absurdity.” One cannot but agree with Ms. Wheatley wholeheartedly. The liberty sought by the patriots appears more a severing of ties from the mother country so as to be able to conduct their lives in whatever manner they wished to without interference from those who may constrain their just or unjust actions.

While the writing is clear and effective, minor editing errors (and recto/verso confusion) did occasionally distract from the narrative. A large acknowledgement section (chapter length!) also comes as a surprise. Nevertheless, this is a detailed and informative work that diligent readers, who desire to know more about this specific part of American history, may well enjoy.

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About Rian Nejar

Rian Nejar is a mid-60's child from India. He trained and worked as an engineer in India, lived briefly in the Middle East, and arrived in America in the early 90's. After a Master’s degree in electrical engineering in America, he worked as an academic instructor, engineer, entrepreneur, and technical writer over the two decades since. Humbling and Humility is the first heartfelt written expression of his varied life experiences. He lives and writes in the Southwest United States.
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