Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Review: The Whites of Their Eyes

Summary: Paul Lockhart combines military and political history to offer a major reassessment of one of the most famous battles in American history. 

One hot June afternoon in 1775, on the gentle slopes of a hill near Boston, Massachusetts, a small band of ordinary Americans—frightened but fiercely determined—dared to stand up to a superior British force. The clash would be immortalized as the Battle of Bunker Hill: the first real engagement of the American Revolution and one of the most famous battles in our history. But Bunker Hill was not the battle that we have been taught to believe it was. 

Revisiting old evidence and drawing on new research, historian Paul Lockhart, author of The Drillmaster of Valley Forge, shows that Bunker Hill was a clumsy engagement pitting one inexperienced army against another. Lockhart tells the rest of the story, too: how a mob of armed civilians became America's first army; how George Washington set aside his comfortable patrician life to take command of the veterans of Bunker Hill; and how the forgotten heroes of 1775—though overshadowed by the more famous Founding Fathers—kept the notion of American liberty alive, and thus made independence possible. -- Harper

My father truly enjoys books about history. Me... not so much. Much to my father's (and husband's) dismay, I tend to get my history lessons from historical fiction! So I just knew when I saw THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES: BUNKER HILL, THE FIRST AMERICAN ARMY, AND THE EMERGENCY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON by Paul Lockhart that Booking Pap Pap would want to read it. Here are his thoughts:

The only thing I remember from my grade school days about the Battle of Bunker Hill is that it was the first serious engagement of the Revolutionary War. I couldn’t even remember who won the battle! Author Paul Lockhart certainly clarifies those issues and many others in his historical account THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES. Actually the battle occurred at Breed’s Hill, not Bunker Hill, as a result of the American militia setting up for battle on the wrong hill. The British did finally win the battle but at a tremendous human cost. The June 1775 battle decided nothing and the British abandoned Boston just nine months later.

Lockhart debunks the myth that the British army was an experienced, well trained but incompetent army and the American militia was made up of free-thinking sharpshooting frontiersman. He shows that the British were trained and aware of American military abilities but short of actual battle experience. The Americans on the other hand were a mob of armed civilians, mainly inexperienced New England farmers. It is also interesting that a significant number of African-Americans and Native Americans were represented in the American ranks.  Lockhart utilizes vivid detail in describing the battle of these two inexperienced forces and shows that the confrontation was not a gentlemanly encounter but a brutal bloody battle.

Crowds of people larger than the forces doing battle observed the affair as if they were watching a play. Many of the officers on each side were very familiar with one another. British general Gage and the American general Ward fought side by side in the French and Indian War.

However, Bunker Hill was not the site of the first bloodshed of the American-British conflict. That actually occurred in April, 1775 when the British marched on Lexington and Concord to disrupt the center of colonial malcontents and arrest agitators like John Hancock and Samuel Adams. These confrontations led to the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Lockhart brings the novel to life with his detailed descriptions of the American and British military leaders, the political climate at the time in England and America and the awful conditions that the American and British forces lived in. He also lays out for the reader the actions of the Continental Congress, the naming of George Washington as the first commander of the Continental Army and the transition of the army from mainly the New England one that fought at Bunker Hill to one that represented all thirteen colonies.

THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES is a very interesting, well written historical account of the events and people at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. It’s a must read for anyone who has interest in American history.

Thanks to my dad for a great review and thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy of this book.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wonderful review! My dad is equally history book obsessed. Wonder if he'd like this one.

bermudaonion said...

It always amazes me that we're taught so many falsehoods in school and I can't understand why. This book does sound interesting!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Thanks again to Booking PapPap for the great review!