125 of 128 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2000
David Hackett Fisher's Paul Revere's Ride ("PRR") is a wonderful work of narrative history, with some splendid historiography tacked on at the end. Paul Revere's role in the events of April 18-19, 1775, has been contested by various critics. Descendants and partisans of William Dawes have claimed that his role was far more significant. Post-modernists have deconstructed Rever's ride as an exercise in national myth-making.
Fisher puts Revere back in the center of the events of April 1775. Of course, PRR is more than just an account of the ride. Fisher gives us a blend of biography and history--he opens with a short account of Revere's youth and then situates Revere in the Boston Whig movement that gave rise to the Revolution. The ride is then put into the context of the origins of the British expedition and the battle of Lexington and Concord.
One of the things I like best about PRR is Fisher's even-handness and basic fairness. Revere takes center stage, but Fisher does not overstate the case--he acknowledges that others played important roles (notably Dawes). Even as to Revere's silversmithing, Fisher acknowledges that Revere's work was not always perfect. General Gage and the other British protagonists are given fair--even sympathetic--treatment.
One particularly interesting contribution made by PRR is Fisher's treatment of the Lexington-Concord battle as a public relations issue. He explains how news spread through the colonies, how Congress got their version of events to London before Gage, how that account affected British public opinion. Given how important public opinion was in the course of the war, this is a very valuable treatment.
Lastly, but maybe not least, the book is superbly illustrated.
In sum, very highly recommended.
75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2004
Judging only by the number of times I talked about it with friends and family, this is a most impressive book.
David Hackett Fisher has assembled a masterwork of storytelling and fact to tell the story not only of Paul Revere, but of the social milieu in which he operated. My fear in reading modern books about historical heros is that a better-researched telling will rub away some of the hero's luster. "Ride," however, teaches new lessons about Revere, while actually enlarging his contribution to history.
Hackett tells the tale of Revere, a Boston craftsman, who was a member of many of the colonial resistance organizations of his day. No one else knew as many colonial leaders and activists as he. When it came time to warn colonists of the British movements toward Concord (to confiscate stores of powder being stockpiled by local militias) Revere was a handy person to have in the saddle. Unlike the impression given by popular legend, Revere did not ride the countryside at random, but with purpose. Knowing the names and residences of the captains of local militias, he warned them of the British movements, allowing the captains to spread the alarm to their own militias. By the time the sun rose, militias throughout eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire were streaming toward Concord. Though stopped by a British patrol short of his destination in Concord, Revere set out on foot to Lexington to warn resistance leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock and to hide important documents. Revere's presence in Lexington as the British entered town, and his earwitnessing of "the shot heard round the world" were thrilling to read and retell.
Hackett's retelling of Revere's story marks a shift (in my experience) from imagining heros as noble loners working in a social vacuum. Hackett reminds us that though Revere was personally courageous, persistent, intelligent, efficient and resourceful, his heroism required a matrix of others who were already well-prepared to mobilize against the oppressor. Hackett's analysis of the societal context of heroism was the overarching message of the book. Heros like Revere have no usefulness apart from a society primed to act; societies desiring change often need the elan of the individual to spur them forward.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 1999
This book was a real surprise and fantastic read, especially for those who are Amercian History buffs. The action moves along at a good clip, with excellent maps provided along the way. I was struck by three themes: the impact that one individual (Paul Revere) can have on historical events; the tragic consequences of poor leadership (General Gage); and what was truly incredible about the early American patriots -- their ability to mobilize so quickly and effectively, despite having no formal military training. You may think you know these details already from your early school history books -- Fischer's account of these events will show you what you've been missing.
Finally, I recommend reading this in the fall if you're really missing New England!
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2005
In what David Hackett Fisher calls these days of national amnesia, Paul Revere's ride - the event, not the book - holds a prime position in American folklore. Composers have written a march and an operetta about it. Artists have painted it, scientists have theorized about its astronomy, geology and meteorology and authors have written scores of children's books about it. The only group that seems to have ignored it is that composed of academic historians. Hackett Fisher says it's because the "only creature less fashionable in academe than the stereotypical dead white male is a dead white male on horseback." He's more reflective when he says an entire generation of academic historiography has lost its sense of the power of particular actions and contingent activities, what Walter Lippmann calls the crystallizing event.
Paul Revere's Ride is about the political and tactical chess match between American patriots and British imperialists in the months leading up to the beginning of the American Revolution. Its epicenter chronicles the execution of the plan that alerted the colonial militia to mobilize and march to engage the British at Lexington and Concord in April, 1775. David Hackett Fischer demonstrates his skill as storyteller and historian as he wraps his work around civic-minded Boston silversmith Paul Revere and his nemesis, aristocratic British general, Thomas Gage. Both men believed deeply in freedom; Revere's version cherished collective rights with individual responsibilities, Gage's was more hierarchical, more elitist than Revere's. The book is wonderfully engaging because Hackett Fisher weaves primary sources into both historical and contemporary context while exploding several myths along the way. In other words, the book is about much more than Paul Revere's ride.
Hackett Fisher describes the revolutionary movement in Boston as large, open, diverse, complex and pluralistic. For example, there were 255 members in seven groups of Massachusetts Whigs that together formed the leadership of revolutionary New England. Paul Revere was one of only two men who were members of five of the groups, making him a lynchpin of the revolutionary movement. Born in 1734, Revere was the son of a French Huguenot immigrant, Apollos Rivoire and a fifth generation New England Yankee, Deborah Hitchborn. He had matured into an American original: a successful small businessman who attended church regularly, earned a "can do" reputation by serving his community frequently - including leadership in several political groups - and considered himself a gentleman. Revere's first wife died after bearing eight children; his second wife gave birth to eight more. Of his 16 children, he buried five as infants and five more as young adults. Revere was naturally gregarious and well-met, but Hackett Fisher says his spirits were utterly crushed by each child's death. A measure of the man, he renewed himself each time with a deep commitment to the common cause of liberty and the equal right of all people to be judged according to their worth.
General Gage was the cautious, conservative commander-in-chief for British North America in 1775, a career soldier more successful in peace than war. His reputation was for discipline and economy, not strategy and tactics. Married to an American heiress, Gage had become a major landowner in North America with a vested interest in keeping the peace with the colonials while guarding the interests of the Empire. Nonetheless, he was the quintessentially arrogant British imperialist who wrote in 1770, "America is a mere bully, from one end to the other, and the Bostonians by far the greatest bullies." Lord Perry, Gage's subordinate officer, described those same Bostonians as "a set of sly, artful, hypocritical rascals, cruel and cowards." The two British officers knew of Paul Revere's frequent journeys to New York and Philadelphia carrying details of the Boston Tea Party and news of the Suffolk Resolves, Massachusetts' reaction to the Intolerable Acts (Britain's Coercive Laws). In fact, General Gage referred to Revere in his correspondence simply as "P. R."
The intrigue that preceded the Battles at Lexington and Concord which began the American Revolution centered on the planning and execution of the patriots' alarm system in which Paul Revere's ride played such a famous role.
As the commercial and political atmosphere surrounding the British and their colonial subjects in New England became more strained, the colonists realized the British possessed an insurmountable advantage if they surprised the colonists with quick military actions. They had no doubt one was on the way in the late summer of 1775. Their theory was ratified by General Gage's successful raid on the Provincial Powder House on September 1, 1775; all the colonists could do was ring their church bells after the fact in what came to be known as the Powder Alarm. Patriot leaders met in Worcester on September 21 and recommended an advance system of alarms and express riders be organized throughout Massachusetts. It was this decision and the planning that followed, coordinated by Paul Revere and a handful of others that made the difference in the colonial victory over the British at Lexington and Concord seven months later.
Revere and the colonials' Committee of Safety worked out three fundamental procedures to send early warnings of movements by British soldiers out of Boston based on whether Gage had closed the town exits. Their first alternative was to dispatch express riders from Boston along open roads to alert local militias. If the British blocked the main roads, special messengers would attempt to leave Boston by more clandestine routes. If the British stopped them, a complex system of lantern signals would be implemented from Boston across the river to Charlestown, setting off a dispersal of riders and ringing of church bells throughout the colony to alert the colony of pending British military movement. The brilliance of the colonial scheme lay in its contingency planning.
It was complex, yet understandable, fast and flexible. Paul Revere knew what to do for example when he was confronted by two British soldiers on the road to warn Sam Adams and John Hancock about Gage's plan to surprise and arrest them in Lexington and seize colonial military assets held at Concord. When the time came to mobilize the Massachusetts militias because "The Regulars are coming out" - Revere's actual words to fellow patriots on his 13-mile, less than two hour ride from Charleston to Lexington - no time was lost to the Law of Unintended Consequences. Unlike the British and the loyalists, the colonists weren't following one man; they were following their collectively designed plan.
Hackett Fisher says the colonists concluded war was inevitable months before Gage decided to move against their leadership and military stores. The citizen soldiers of Massachusetts militia prepared not just to fight, but to win; their motivation was visceral in defense of their lives and their property. While towns organized militia companies - some more than one, like Sudbury which mobilized five - they also loaded wagons with supplies, ready to follow the militia when they finally marched. Captain Isaac Davis of Acton, a farmer and gunsmith, represented the depth of preparation when he built a firing range behind his shop so his company of militiamen could practice their marksmanship twice a week for six months leading up to April 19. The culture of planning and preparation was pervasive.
Age made no difference to the volunteers. A Dedham source wrote, "The gray-haired veterans of the French wars, whose blood was stirred anew by the sights and sound of war, resolved to follow their sons into battle." Hackett Fischer says the older colonial men were among the most dangerous adversaries the British faced. Many years later, an historian asked 91-year-old Captain Levi Preston of Danvers what made him join the militia to fight the British. "Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves and we always meant to. They didn't mean we should."
One of the most interesting parts of the book is a historiographical section on "Myths after the Midnight Ride." Perhaps the most compelling is Hackett Fisher's treatment of Longfellow's Myth of the Lone Rider. "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and published in 1861. Hackett Fisher says Longfellow was "utterly without scruple in his manipulation of historical fact" when he wrote the poem that's arguably the main reason for Paul Revere's popular fame. In part, it reads,
Listen my children, and you shall hear, Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere ... The people will waken and listen to hear, The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed, And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
"As an historical description of Paul Revere's ride, the poem was grossly, systematically, and deliberately inaccurate," says Hackett Fisher. "(Longfellow) invented an image of Paul Revere as a solitary hero who acted alone in history ... (his) verse instantly transformed a regional folk-hero into a national figure of high prominence. Paul Revere entered the pantheon of patriot heroes as an historical loner of the sort that Americans love to celebrate." Longfellow apparently could have cared less; his purpose in writing the poem was to awaken public opinion to the Union cause in the national debate preceding the Civil War. It should be noted Hackett Fisher is obviously comfortable riding Longfellow's coattails and Revere's cultural image, leveraging it in his title to attract greater attention. Some historians may look down their noses at this, but Hackett Fisher is only taking advantage of the power of Revere's name as a mnemonic.
Over the years, Hackett Fisher says several other myths have attached themselves to the history of Paul Revere. Many originate from jealous Bostonians who resent Revere's notoriety, others from historical revisionists looking for something new to say about the Revolution. For example, patriotic engravers always represented Paul Revere's horse, Brown Beauty, as a fine-boned thoroughbred. Historical debunkers in the 20th century took great pleasure maintaining Revere actually rode a heavy-set plow horse. Rubbish, says Hackett Fisher. Nonetheless the charge has crept into the historical literature. Another debunker in the 1920s went so far as to claim Revere's midnight ride never happened. President Warren Harding was so incensed on hearing this that he weighed in on the debate from the White House. "Somebody made the ride," he said, "and stirred the minutemen in the colonies to fight the battle of Lexington, which was the beginning of independence in the new Republic of America. I love the story of Paul Revere, whether he rode or not." The moral? Don't mess with Mother Nature, don't mess with Texas and don't mess with Paul Revere!
David Hackett Fischer is a thorough historian and an excellent writer, infused with a healthy dose of the skeptic. As a result, Paul Revere's Ride throws a bright light on a piece of American history most people think they know well but actually don't. Hackett Fisher clears academe's research hurdles, challenges earlier work with critical thinking and entertains with a skillful narrative style. For the popularity of history and the benefit of posterity, other academic historians are encouraged to follow suit.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2004
David Hackett Fischer's "Paul Revere's Ride" is an exciting look at what may be one of the more misunderstood events of the American Revolution. Fischer makes a remarkable effort to dispel the many myths that have sprung out of Revere's famous ride to warn the residents of Lexington and Concord to the approach of the British expedition. The narrative is markedly descriptive and gives one a "you are there" feel. The book is very well researched with copious notes and numerous appendices that provide further depth and detail to the narrative. I found Fischer's highly detailed maps to be of great benefit. They were detailed and in conjunction with the narrative allowed for an in-depth understanding of the events of April 18-19, 1775.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2005
A marvelous blend of scholarship and literary talent. The author's love for this subject comes through in every page. He sets the stage for the conflict beautifully, using contemporary descriptions and writings to help us understand the personalities and inner conflicts of his two main subjects (Revere and Gage); and through them to explain the larger clash between cultures and ideas. He uses detail to paint a picture of the time and particularly of the days surrounding the battles of Lexington and Concord but consistently avoids the trap of cataloguing detail for its own sake. This book is truly a great read---exciting, thought provoking, enlightening.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Yes, Paul Revere was preparing to make his way to the "opposite shore" when the two lights appeared for a brief moment in the steeple of the Old North Church. But Revere had not yet left Boston. And he was neither one of the signalers nor one of the signal recipients: he was instead the one who arranged for the alarm to be sent in that fashion, in that place and by the two men who climbed that dizzying height carrying their candle-filled lanterns. And those are only some of the tidbits you will learn when you read this definitive history. More than just a standard biography of Revere, and more than just a look at "The Ride" in particular, Fischer's book is an excellent exploration of the aspects and ramifications surrounding one single event -- one that is fully enmeshed in American memory and culture, and one from which many ripples emanate.
Fischer traces all the avenues leading up to the battles at Lexington and Concord, from the viewpoints and behaviors of the colonists and the British officials. As the momentum builds, we follow Paul Revere's actions as well as General Thomas Gage's decisions and orders. We may *think* we know the basics of the event, but surprises show up at every turn. "Alarms" had been raised in several towns before the one in Concord. Revere wasn't the only rider on April 18-19, 1775, and he never reached Concord. No one called out, "The British are coming! The British are coming!" because at that point in time, everyone involved considered themselves British. ("The Regulars are out," was instead the patriot cry.) And the skirmish system of battle wasn't gleaned from natives on the continent; it was instead implemented by men who had been involved in the French and Indian Wars and used the variations in the landscape and terrain to their ultimate advantage. By the end of the book, readers will no doubt be buoyed and impressed by the independent spirit shown by their American ancestors. They might even feel a bit of sympathy for Thomas Gage, who eventually returned to England and never found much success in the British military.
The fascinating text is accompanied by b&w photos of the major personalities as well as useful maps of the region illustrating the movements of troops and individuals. But the real gems here are the appendices and historiographies that follow the text. If you're a numbers person, you'll welcome the supplemental material that includes troop strength and numerical accounts of those injured or killed on that fateful April day. Here you can also trace how the mythology of Paul Revere's ride became imbedded in our collective American psyche. You'll even discover what facts Henry Wadsworth Longfellow deliberately got wrong in his famous poetic rendering of the event. The latter third of Fischer's book is indeed a treasure trove that allows the readers to study primary source information themselves and come to their own conclusions.
Why didn't we learn all this stuff in school? For all these years, we've been missing "the rest of the story." *This* is the way history should be written and taught! I am eager to read other histories by David Hackett Fischer.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2000
There must be something different about the air or water in New Jersey-or at least in certain areas of the state. That is the only conclusion I can come to to when one NJ reviewer(with history honours) describes this book as " absolutely boring," whilst another labels author, David Hackett Fischer, as "cynical." Well, as an Australian with an honours in American history let me say I found Fischer's book absolutely riveting-moving as quickly as Paul Revere, on Brown Beauty, through the New England countryside. As for criticising the current generation, Fischers,comparison with the revolutionary generation is very mild stuff-a passing comment on page 175- that favours the reflective processes of the past generation over society of today. Paul Revere's ride is not just about the night of the epic event to warn the colonists that the Regulars were coming but also about the tensions leading up to the 'shots heard around the world,' and the nightmare journey of the British redcoats on their return from the Battle of Concord, after the earlier skirmish at Lexington-an event that aroused the colonists like bees to a honey pot.Interestingly, Fischer describes many of the British officers, far from being confident after Lexington,as being deeply concerned about proceeding to Concord. History proved them wise judges. Fischer also includes an extensive historiography of Revere and his changing role over the years- from being a mythical hero to being debunked,denied and reviled. Readers can draw their own conclusion on this active silversmith, Whig and Federalist whose long life, (1734-1818), covered some of the truly great moments in American history. Fischer's great narrative brings back all the atmosphere of that seminal period and the reader is virtually transported back to that heady time when Revere rode not only into the dark New England night but also into the pages of history.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2006
Living in the area where the events took place I thought I knew the real story about Paul Revere and the under-reported William Dawes and Dr. Prescott. But reading this book I realize how little I did know and that much of the story regarding the beginning of the revolution is myth. That's too bad as Fischer explains the true events are even more interesting than the myths. The story is told perfectly - letting the reader feel like a fly on the wall and let's us know the mindset of the principals involved and what they did and why. Having read the book then visiting Minuteman Park made the events seem much closer. Dr. Fischer knows his history and did an excellent job of research. Thankfully his prose allows the story to flow as easily as Brown Beauty was to ride. My heart pounded when reading of the fighting and the desperate plight of the British soldiers.
I also enjoyed reading what happened to the participants after the battle. I'd wondered why Revere didn't have more of an active roll in later events. This is the definitive story about those events and I think young and old can appreciate this classic.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2004
In Paul Revere's Ride, David Hackett Fischer revisits the familiar story of Revere's midnight ride, but from a different angle.
My first impression of the book is that the title does not accurately describe the scope of the book. Fischer's tale is not narrowly focused on Revere's adventure, rather it tells the story within the wider view of the revolution's nucleolus in New England.
Make no mistake, were this a movie, Revere would be the leading man, but Fischer also gives prominence to General Thomas Gage, the commander of British forces in North America, and strong supporting roles to the lesser figures that played important parts in the action.
I found this to be a fascinating story that reads well. To call this book "action packed" would be an overstatement, but it certainly did not want for drama. I also greatly appreciated Fischer's telling of events from the British point-of-view as well as the colonial.
This is a well rounded story of the beginnings of revolution, anchored around the midnight rides of Revere and William Dawes, and should be an enjoyable read for anyone interested in early American history.