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Ethan Allen: His Life and Times Hardcover – August 22, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Starred Review. The definitive biography of the frontier hero and founder of Vermont....Authoritative, vivid.... Colorful, well-written and nuanced. (Kirkus Reviews)

This is the first biography of Ethan Allen in half a century, and the only one to render him a psychologically complicated, fully flawed hero of the American Revolution. (Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers and American Sphinx)

Willard Sterne Randall has few equals as a writer. A careful and meticulous historian, and an esteemed biographer, Randall has marshaled his many talents to produce the definite biography of Ethan Allen, one of the most fascinating figures in the founding of the American nation.... a must read. (John Ferling, author of Independence)

This is the powerful story about an essential and little-understood figure in American history. Willard Randall writes with grace and insight, and Ethan Allen is an engaging biography. (Jon Meacham, author of American Lion)

About the Author

Willard Sterne Randall is the author of A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin and His Son, Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, Thomas Jefferson: A Life, George Washington, A Life, Alexander Hamilton, A Life and Ethan Allen: His Life and Times. Randall is a retired professor of history at Champlain College, holds as permanent appointment as Visiting Professor of History at John Cabot University in Rome. He co-authored American Lives and  Forgotten Americans with his wife, the poet Nancy Nahra.Six times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, he received the Award of Merit from the American Revolution Round Table, only awarded three times in its 50-year history. As an investigative reporter,  in a 17-year journalism career in Philaddelphia he received the National Magazine Award for Public Service from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, the Hillman Prize, the Loeb Award and the John Hancock Awardfor Excellence in Business Writing before undertaking graduate studies in history at Princeton University and writing biography. He resides in Burlington, Vermont.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (August 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393076652
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393076653
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.7 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #602,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

After a successful seventeen-year career as a feature writer for the Philadelphia Bulletin, magazine writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, investigative journalist for Philadelphia Magazine and stringer for Time-Life News Service, Willard Sterne Randall pursued advanced studies in history at Princeton University. Biographer of Benjamin and William Franklin, of Benedict Arnold, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Ethan Allen, he has co-authored collections of biographies and e-books with his wife, the biographer and award-winning poet, Nancy Nahra. As a journalist, Randall won the National Magazine Award for Public Service from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, the Standard Gravure Award, the Hillman Prize, the Loeb Award and the John Hancock Prize. His Benedict Arnold biography received four national awards and was a New York Times Notable Book. Publishers Weekly chose his biography of Jefferson as one of the ten best biographies of 1993. He received the Award of Merit of the American Revolution Round Table. He taught American history at John Cabot University in Rome and at the University of Vermont and Champlain College, where he was a Distinguished Scholar in History and is a Professor Emeritus. He is a contributing editor to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. He lives, writes, teaches, lectures and likes to swim in Burlington, Vermont.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 93 people found the following review helpful By okeydoke on August 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
As an avid reader of American history, I find it distressing to find such a worthy effort receiving bad reviews based not on content but on the fact that the Kindle price seems high. By their own admission, neither of the previous two "reviewers" have read the work at all. It is, in fact, quite excellent, and fills an important gap, as noted by historian Joseph Ellis.

Bottom line: Don't be fooled by "reviews" by potential customers who are in fact reviewing Amazon's pricing policies. Give this book the chance it deserves. You will be well rewarded.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Joseph C. Benning on September 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an avid student of Vermont history, I thought I had read everything there was to read about Ethan Allen. I was therefore apprehensive about buying another book on the subject, but I'm certainly glad I did. This book is one of the best! Randall weaves Allen's life around the many forces that were in play during the latter part of the eighteenth century, providing context to what made Allen tick. Thoroughly researched and laden with first-hand accounts from Allen's contemporaries, the book makes it is easy to understand his dynamic personality. Randall's writing style made it an absolute pleasure to digest several chapters in one sitting and would then leave you anxious to return for more. I was so taken with the charming account of Allen's meeting of the woman who would become his second wife that I read the chapter out loud to my own wife- something I have never done with a book before. If you are looking for a wonderful book about a true American hero, this is it.

Joe Benning
Vermont State Senator
Caledonia-Orange District
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Justin G. Wicks on November 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Unlike some of the folks on here who have left reviews of this book without ever picking it up, I have actually read it. Ethan Allen: His Life and Times is a great book about one of the most intriguing characters of the Revolutionary War, and it is written in such a way that is not patronizing to the subject but rather an honest look at his life. As a Vermonter, I love to read about my state's history but I admittedly didn't know very much about Ethan Allen before reading this book. Reading about his courage and strong-will in combination with his flaws make him a very real and identifiable hero.

This book is obviously the product of extensive research into the subject matter. Randall's writing style made this book impossible to put down as the chapters read like a novel rather than a biography.

I highly recommend this book -- not only because it is about an underappreciated American Hero -- but because it is a great book.
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33 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A. History Buff on November 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Well written but disappointing. There are so many obvious errors and unexplained inconsistencies which leads one to question all the information which is not obvious.

There is lack of understanding of New England geogaphy. For instance, Worcester, MA(our 2nd largest city) is not "on the Connecticut River"(page 6-hardcover) and in fact over 40 miles away. Allen couldn't "have followed the Batten Kill"(page 178 into Pownal from the South as as in fact the Batten Kill never goes into Pownal but flows 3 towns to the north. Fort William Henry is on the southern, not northern(page 103), part of Lake George. On page 253 it states that Pittsford is 20 miles from Bennnington whereas it is actually over 55 miles. On page 299, the book states that Westminter is in the "southwest" part of Vermont when according to Mapquest it is actually as far east as it can be given it is on the Connecticut River(the NH/VT border). There also seems to be very little knowledge of the way rivers/lakes flow in Vermont and Upstate NY.

Inconsistencies are also frequent. For example, on page 190 its indicates Benning Wentworth(NH) chartered 140 towns, yet on page 194 it says 127 and on page 195 its says 137. To top it off, on page 243, the book indicates 178 towns. Another inconsistency is where Ethan Allen's cousin, Remember Baker lived. On pages 177/178 it is stated stated that Baker's home was Pownal for 4 years prior to 1767 or starting in 1763/1764. Yet on pages 363/364, it is stated that Baker lived in Arlington for 12 years prior to 1775(when he was killed) which would mean he was in Arlington, not Pownal, from 1763/1764. This inconsistency also raises the whole question of Baker ever having a home in Pownal.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Silence Dogood on August 22, 2012
Format: Paperback
A Promise Kept

The book in question, Ethan Allen: A Life did not wait long in the public eye for its value to be acknowledged. That happened quickly in more than a few noteworthy quarters. And let us not forget that the book did satisfy some standards acknowledged to be rather estimable: not bothered by minor oversights, the New York Review of Books called the same book, "A thoroughly researched and well-written study." Even before that, The Wall Street Journal characterized it as "Exhaustively researched and insightful." Then there are the comments by widely respected academic historians. Let me also point out that no major premise of the book has been challenged.

Naturally, there have also been some grumblings, the kind of thing that would once have been called "pot shots." Having enjoyed Ethan Allen: A Life even more than I expected to, I wondered why there was any fussing at all.

Curious about the cavils that a volunteer amateur reviewer inspired, I made my own comparison of that first hardcover printing of Willard Sterne Randall's book, Ethan Allen: A Life, alongside a subsequent printing, just to see whether the errors that offended History Buff were being allowed to stand. Here's what I found.

Those minor geographical errors --and there are only four in a 600-page plus book-- are already corrected in the next printing. Anyone who likes to quibble could, I suppose, discuss a question about how close to a particular town Ethan Allen came on snowshoes. That one bothered me rather little. But the energetic finger that wagged hard about the author's putative inconsistency was vexing enough to make me keep digging. It turns out that those criticisms have more to do with some hasty reading (by Mr. Buff) than with the book's writing.
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