Regular visitors to this site know that my reading habits show a penchant for fiction. Having spent most of my adult life reading the truly horrible academic writing of political scientists, I have devoted my reading hours in recent years to enjoying the best contemporary fiction I can find. But occasionally I still like to read political or historical nonfiction. Today, I finished reading David Hackett Fischer's Paul Revere's Ride. What a great book!
Fischer is a distinguished professor of history at Brandeis University. It was an act of intellectual and academic bravery by him in the early 1990s to undertake a historical examination of this iconic story in American history. Pointing to the preference of contemporary historians to delve into large-scale causes rather than events, and to genuflect to multiculturalism and political correctness, Fischer candidly noted in his introduction: "As this volume goes to press, the only creature less fashionable in academe than the stereotypical 'dead white male,' is a dead white male on horseback." Lucky for us that Fischer had the character to pursue the events surrounding Revere's ride in spite of the narrow-mindedness that surrounded him in academic circles; this is a truly fine historical narrative, a riveting account of the events of April 18, 1775.
Fischer's aim here is to see the coming of the American Revolution "as a series of contingent happenings, shaped by the choices of individual actors within the context of large cultural processes." He focuses on two actors in particular -- Paul Revere and General Thomas Gage, the commander in chief of British forces in America. Fischer wants to explain the series of events that lead up to the Revolution as a sequence of choices made by Revere, Gage, and many other leaders. The book is especially strong in showing Revere not as the solitary rider of mythology, but as a key organizer of collective efforts leading up to the Revolution.
If you have enjoyed some of the great biographies of American figures by David McCullough (for example, John Adams or Truman), you'll enjoy this book. Fischer's work is not a biography, but he brings the historical figures to life here and tells a really compelling story. It's a historical page-turner. That is no small achievement.