American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution by Walter R. Borneman (ISBN 978-0-316-22102-3; 470 pages) concentrates on the months from late 1774 to Washington taking command in July, 1775. It is printed in an easily readable font with a few illustrations inserted in the middle and ten maps spread throughout. The chapters are broken down into shorter sections that flow together well and give the reader numerous places to conveniently put the book aside and pick up later. The text is well-documented with extensive endnotes, a good bibliography, and a detailed index. Physically, the book is a quick and easy read.
In his preface, Mr. Borneman outlines his belief in the use of primary source quotes in his writing—that seeing history as the participants saw it “before two centuries of interpretation clouded their words” provides power and insight for the reader. He also promises to give voice to people other than “white males in three-cornered hats”—in particular, women, loyalists, and African Americans. He closes the preface with the question, “Who were those at risk in the spring of 1775?” With the hope that this book would look at the period through the eyes of the common person, I turned the page anticipating a fresh approach to describing the very beginnings of the Revolution.
For much of the work, Mr. Borneman is true to his word. Indeed, he includes many quotes from primary sources and makes use of material written by individuals other than white males. However, the use of such items diminishes once the book has progressed and, at times, their inclusion almost seems gratuitous. In general, they do not add significantly to the points being made. The meat of the book still relies on white male primary and secondary writings.
At its core, American Spring is an old-school interpretation of the story with little new information or conclusions. On the American side, John Hancock and Samuel Adams (to his great credit, Mr. Borneman does not call him “Sam”), particularly the latter, are firebrands and key to getting things done. Little or no credit is given to anyone else for what happened in the months leading up to the outbreak of war. Thousands of rebelling Americans remain faceless and act only upon direction from Adams and Hancock.
Samuel Adams is presented as perhaps the most influential person of the period. For example, the questionable story that he used code words during a speech to activate the Boston Tea Party is presented as fact. The author also suggests many of the letters of support for Boston signed by individuals and published in newspapers may actually have been written by Adams. That Adams served as the mainspring of the rebellion culminates in the author’s comment about the British move towards Concord: “the signal event that might spark the open and irrevocable break with Great Britain that he [Adams] had been planning for more than a decade was likely at hand.” Historians in the 19th– and early 20th-centuries built the American mythology by using this great-men-creating-great-events approach and placing those men on a pedestal. The common person is left as part of the unthinking mob acting only when directed by a very few autocrats. Ironically, this presentation is precisely what anti-rebellion writers claimed at the time the events happened.
In another parallel to the old-school interpretation, most British are presented as inept bad guys. The book refers to spies within Boston as doing it for “British sterling” and gives no hint that they might believe their position to be the right one and that of the rebels as traitorous. The British soldiers in the ranks are portrayed as having little discipline and apt to do what they please. There is little to indicate that the British had arguably the best army in the world at the time—a condition unattainable with units full of ne’er-do-wells. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith is referenced as having an “ample girth” half-a-dozen times—a condition with no bearing on his abilities. The only British officer regularly presented with any degree of sympathy is General Thomas Gage and even he is shown as rather slow to act, incompetent, and with a wife who may have passed on information to the Americans.
There are some miscues in the book. The author makes references to wet boots—the men did not wear boots—and “Royal Marines”—British marines did not add “Royal” to their title until the early 1800s. On page 146, he comments on the quick pace of Smith’s column but mentions an “unhurried pace” on the very next page. He spends time commenting on problems resulting from brigading together light infantry and grenadier companies from different regiments. He clearly did not know the British army commonly combined those companies.
Of a more significant nature, Mr. Borneman makes some claims about the American militia that are debatable. In writing about the election of officers, he says that the men would have “voted for military experience over popularity.” While such experience may well have had some influence, social and political standing within the community played a more essential role in the decision.
The author also states that many of the men had gained considerable military experience by service in the French and Indian War while it seems that is not the case. For example, the Lexington Training Band had 140 men but only twenty-eight had served during the earlier war and those few did not include Captain John Parker as the author claims. Far fewer men—nineteen out of 340—in the Essex County, MA, companies can be shown to have been in the French and Indian War. Even those who had served probably did not see any combat. Most men served for only a few months over the course of the war.
The claim that the militia were well-trained and inured to woods warfare by fighting Indians is also spurious. Following the French and Indian War, the effectiveness of militia drill sessions had fallen off dramatically. Only in late 1774 had most companies begun to drill in earnest. Even with the drilling, practicing on the field does not guarantee a disciplined performance when there is lead in the air from an enemy. There are numerous instances throughout the Revolution where supposedly well-trained militia did not stand and fight. As for fighting Indians, coastal New England for many miles inland had been a well-developed region for many years. Any native peoples had long since moved north or west or had become acclimated to European ways and did not display any hostile behaviors.
In spite of the above negative aspects and even though 1775 (Kevin Phillips) and Bunker Hill (Nathaniel Philbrick) covered the same ground, American Spring does have a value. It is a quick and easy read and Mr. Borneman does present a good overview of the flow of events of those few months. It would probably be quite interesting and informative to someone with a limited background in the Revolution but I would hope the novice would read some other works to get a broader presentation and more current interpretation of the period. For someone familiar with the period and up-to-date interpretations, it can serve as a refresher course and the bibliography might provide some new primary sources to researchers. But, someone looking for a cutting-edge book using the latest research to offer new interpretations on the beginnings of the Revolution best look elsewhere.
 The information on the militia comes from Alexander Cain’s We Stood Our Ground: Lexington in the First Year of the American Revolution (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2004) and conversations with William Clemens and Richard Trask (Danvers, MA, town archivist) who have been researching militia for many years.  Cain, 45.