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Showing 1-10 of 136 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 260 reviews
VINE VOICEon September 26, 2016
It’s 1792. Ethan Saunders lives in Philadelphia and is a veteran of the American Revolution, living his life in increasing penury and drunkenness as a result of being falsely accused of treason during the war. He had been a spy, and very effective one, perhaps too effective. He had been falsely accused of treason, and not only was forced to resign but also lost the great love of his life.

Saunders is sinking deeper into dissolution when he learns that his old love has turned to him in desperation for help. Her husband is missing, she’s been threatened, and she doesn’t know what is happening. It’s something to do with the new National Bank created by Alexander Hamilton.

Joan Maycott lives in upstate New York. Her story begins in 1781. She falls in love with a younger son of a neighboring family, Andrew Maycott, a man wounded during the Revolution. They try their hand at running a carpentry business in New York City, but the work is a constant struggle. The Maycotts are offered a way out – in return for the IOU the federal government owes Maycott as a veteran (the Revolution veterans were still waiting to paid several years after the war), a business agent offers land in western Pennsylvania.

The exchange turns out to be something less than fair – forested land instead of cropland and a rapacious villain holding title to the land until it’s fully paid off. And the villain wants more than financial payment – he offers favorable terms in return for bedding Joan Maycott. Her husband refuses, and with help from other settlers, they begin to carve out a life. And it turns out that Andrew Maycott figures out how to make incredibly good whiskey. All is going well, until Alexander Hamilton convinces Congress to pay for the national bank with a tax on whiskey.

The stories of Ethan Saunders and Joan Maycott eventually converge. Saunders gradually discovers a plot to take over the bank, a plot being used to disguise the real plot – destroy the bank and wreck the economy of the young nation.

“The Whiskey Rebels” by David Liss, originally published in 2008, is the story of Saunders, Maycott, and the early days of the National Bank, when there actually was a plot to take over the bank. It is a story peopled with fictional and real characters, and fictional and real events, vividly combined into an exciting and riveting tale. (The actual Whiskey Rebellion occurred two years after the events told in the story, and the country witnessed the spectacle of the federal government sending troops to subdue its own citizens.)

Saunders and Maycott will find themselves allies – or perhaps opponents – as the conspirators and government agents race to outwit each other. At that point, the story becomes an edge-of-the-0seat account.

What Liss does, and does effectively, is to use historical research to color, shade, and shape his story. The reader gains a sense not only of the history unfolding but also what it was like to live in Philadelphia and New York as well as on what was then the frontier (Pittsburgh).

Liss is the author of several bestselling historical novels, including “A Conspiracy of Paper” (2000), “The Coffee Trader” (2003), “A Spectacle of Corruption” (2004),” The Ethical Assassin” (2006), “The Devil’s Company” (2009), “The Twelfth Enchantment” (2012), and “The Day of Atonement” (2014). He’s also published several children’s books. He lives in San Antonio.

“The Whiskey Rebels” is an outstanding historical novel.
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on July 4, 2017
A well crafted story of the very early American frontier and life, particularly poignant given the current popularity of the Broadway musical Hamilton. Hamilton is a pivotal influence here if kept mostly behind the scenes. As with any grand social change, some people win big and others loose big. This is a story of people on the loosing side of Hamilton's effort to craft an American financial foundation. The book is not about finances however but rather life, and in particular the life of two people who through very hard work manage to craft their American Dream only to see it unravel and crushed by Hamilton's program. That gets us a bit more than half way through. The rest is the story of one of those character's mission of revenge for what Hamilton did.
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on June 23, 2016
This is the 3rd book I've read by David Liss and I have one more in queue, so obviously I like his writing. The stories are well-researched historical mysteries with a financial/markets/politics aspect to them. I rate "The Coffee Trader" and "A Conspiracy of Paper" 5 stars. I would give this 5 stars but for Liss' dealing with historical figures and a slightly dark ending. I should point out that I rate tough, and this is far better than 95% of the books rated 5-star on Amazon. (Apparently those folks have either never read quality or can't recognize it!).
Having researched well and due to his ability to write period conversation, Liss gives the reader a real feel for the life and times of the era. This is not merely a poor modern story dropped into an historical setting to sell better.
The story is written in the first person by 2 different characters whose lives eventually intertwine. Therefore there are alternating chapters of one character then the other -- it is not done merely as an affectation, but adds to the story. I know that some reviewers are confused or put off by this, but it adds considerably to the mystery not unlike Michael Crichton.
In case you haven't read the other reviews, this primarily involves a woman who moves from Philadelphia to the frontier (Pittsburg) and returns seeking revenge, and an ex-American-Revolutionary-War-spy who was betrayed and disgraced. They are both involved with Alexander Hamilton setting up America's first national bank.
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on February 14, 2016
Being from Monongahela, Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh area) and knowing just a little of the history of the Whiskey Rebellion, I was drawn to this novel. The first part of the book was interesting although slow in parts. The author's depiction of early Pittsburgh (Helltown ?) were deplorable and I cannot be certain of the accuracy. It was entertaining nonetheless. Life in the new frontier of south western PA was also interesting to read as I'm sure this was were I grew up. There was also a parallel, unrelated story taking place in alternating chapters. I enjoyed the first part of the book, but the second half was soon trapped in economics. Ecomics of the early banks of the US and the trades associated and, unfortunately, with the author's economics of words. He could have tied these story lines together and wrapped this book up in 200 pages less. Still enjoyable, but cumbersome at times.
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VINE VOICEon October 1, 2014
This is our most recent book club pick. Set just after the end of the Revolutionary War, the book follows two threads - that of Ethan Saunders, an alcoholic war veteran tarnished with accusations of treason and Joan Maycott, a strong-willed woman set to make her mark on this new, American world. Both characters are engaging narrators and Ethan in particular is surprisingly funny. It’s an enjoyable, though lengthy read, and moves at a fast pace despite the heft of my hard cover version. As the storylines continue, the book only becomes more interesting and it’s impressive how strong and equally balanced both of the narratives are. I am especially impressed with Joan’s narrative as Liss demonstrates his talents as a male author capable of creating authentic female voices.
The time period feels well-researched and reminds me of my AP US History classes where we discussed how the aftermath of the Revolutionary War laid the groundwork for the Civil War to follow. Liss picks up that thread and it is quite evident through the course of the novel how East versus West sentiments will soon shift to North versus South. The two storylines work well together despite the differences in their chronology and as they begin to merge together, the story only becomes all the more exciting. The occasional levity in Ethan’s observations and comments in particular nicely breaks up the dramatic tension - it is a pleasant surprise to actually laugh out loud at times!

This is a strong piece of historical fiction, made all the more impressive because it succeeds on taking what may at first seem a relatively minor part of history and dramatizing its conflicts and characters. It’s impressively done and both the plot and characters grow more complex with each page. The ending itself does not quite align with the breadth of the pages preceding it (the epilogue in particular feels too one-sided), but it is all together a quite satisfying read. Ethan has quickly become one of my new favorite characters in fiction! I am definitely looking forward to reading more by Liss and discussing this one with my book club!
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on March 3, 2013
I have read Liss's other books and enjoyed the character of Weaver and was looking to this to be a little empty without that familiar character, but it was not. My previous knowledge of the Whiskey Rebellion was very thin, confined to a smile and the thought that it must have been a bunch of drunks upset over not getting enough. It was nice then to see that the concerns were real and how much the precipitating factors fit in with the American character, including innovation, hard work, and a desire to get ahead through ones own labor, not to mention the willingness to stand up for what was felt to be right. I have also enjoyed the extent to which Liss keeps his characters "in character." His main woman character stayed strong but not a flimsy transplanted 21st century feminist, all knowing and all powerful, just in a skirt. Showed that most held women to be of little import but some could still realize knowledge, ideas, and even a form of leadership. I have also admired, and continue to admire, his writing style that gives such a feeling of the period, holding to speech forms even in the narrative without being stilted or contrived. Some might be offended by the degree to which real people were woven in, but I was not. I felt it made them a little more human, that not everyone held each of the early characters in our history in awe and reverence but that they had their opponents as well as any modern political figure.
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on June 24, 2013
"The Whiskey Rebels" takes place in the early days of the United States and concerns a plot to bring down the fledgling banking system, and in turn, the country itself. While this may not sound all that thrilling, David Liss brings plenty of intrigue and suspense to his story. This book is long and quite detailed on the financial machinations involved and I would not consider it a light read. However, for the reader willing to hang in there the rewards are great.
There were three things that really made "The Whiskey Rebels" stand out for me. The first was the deep and rich characterizations Liss brought to not only the two main characters, but many of the more minor ones as well. The two main characters, who serve as first person narrators, are Joan Maycott and Ethan Saunders. I will admit that I never really like Joan too much, despite my sympathy for the circumstances in which she found herself, but she was nevertheless fascinating in her determination and ability to manipulate and persuade others into doing her will.
Ethan Saunders, on the other hand, was a joy to read about. The reader first comes to know Ethan as a disgraced patriot. He is a somewhat buffoonish drunk who appears to be lacking in honor. He doesn't seem like much of a hero. However, much of "The Whiskey Rebels" is the story of Ethan Saunders personal redemption. He is revealed to be clever, resourceful, witty, compassionate and does indeed have a sense of honor. Real-life figures appear in the book as well. Liss' portrayal of Alexander Hamilton is completely believable and in-line with my own readings on him.
The second thing that made this book memorable for me was the structure. The narrative shifts between Joan and Ethan, but Joan's narrative covers many years while Ethan's covers a much shorter period of time. Joan' s sections are dated and Ethan's are not. The reader wonders how and when these two characters' stories will intertwine. Joan and Ethan first meet in an Ethan chapter. In the next Joan chapter, they have not yet met. So the reader now knows that the events Ethan is relating are ahead of the events Joan is relating. I appreciated that added layer of mystery.
Lastly, I really enjoyed the complexity of the plot. This book made me think. There are many characters as well as lots of gray areas and shifting alliances. I really felt like my brain was actively engaged in putting all the pieces together. I thoroughly enjoyed "The Whiskey Rebels."
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on December 23, 2014
I've enjoyed the novels of David Liss since his first, A Conspiracy of Paper, followed by the Coffee Trader and other historic fiction, mainly in England and the Low Countries. His ability to link the early financial systems of the Amsterdam and London to today's US financial markets is uncanny. His well-developed characters draw you in to engaging plots. This, his first novel about the early US financial markets, is perhaps his most fully realized novel. He combines the bold-face names of the revolution - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton - with scoundrels of the new US economy - speculator William Duer, among others - in a fast-paced story. His fictional characters are thoroughly developed and believable. A fast read.
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on September 2, 2009
This book isn't the best choice for readers who like a book that is steeped in history and also tells a story. Maybe mystery lovers would like it.

It's also extremely difficult to keep the characters straight and to keep track of what is happening. It's not an easy book to read.

I like historic fiction and that is what this book is supposed to be. While I can't say that it's not historic fiction, I do say that there is not enough history in it for my taste. I'm having trouble forcing myself to finish it.
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on November 16, 2011
I was captivated from the first chapter as the plot unfolded and I followed the adventures (in alternate chapters) of Ethan Saunders and Joan Maycott. I knew a bit about the history leading up to the Whiskey Rebellion as well as the early financial history of the United States, but still felt like I learned a lot about early finance (and speculation) in the United States while reading this book. The characters and the mystery surrounding them made learning more about this period thoroughly enjoyable. I do wish, however, that Liss had worked his plot so that it could have climaxed with the very colorful Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania in 1794, instead of bringing all his character back east early and wrapping up the plot with the William Duer induced Panic of 1792. I would love to see Liss bring back the dissolute but charming Saunders in another book (perhaps one that actually features the Whiskey Rebellion as opposed to just the opening salvos?). I enjoyed Joan's chapters as well and found her an admirable character in many ways -- though she felt more like a woman interpreted by a man than a real woman to me. Still I found the characters and and the plot of this novel gripping and recommend it as a very enoyable and educational read!
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