Announcing the Winner of the 2017 Journal of the American Revolution Book of the Year Award

Journal of the American Revolution today announced its winner and runner-up for the 2017 Journal of the American Revolution Book of the Year Award.

The annual award goes to the non-fiction volume that best mirrors the journal’s mission: to deliver engaging, creative, and intelligent content that makes American Revolution history accessible to a broad audience. The award honors original research combined with a well-crafted narrative that appeals to scholars and non-academic readers alike.

This year’s winner is The Martyr and the Traitor: Nathan Hale, Moses Dunbar, and the American Revolution by Virginia DeJohn Anderson (Oxford University Press, 2017). Focusing on experiences of individuals, drawing heavily from primary sources, and demonstrating the complexity of the era, Anderson’s book chronicles the lives of two men that both ended tragically but which are judged differently due to circumstances far beyond their control. The topic and approach exemplify the core values of journal. Here is an extract from our review:

How did two young men from Connecticut who supported opposing sides in the American Revolution meet the same fate only months apart? Why is one hailed as a hero and the other virtually forgotten? In The Martyr and the Traitor: Nathan Hale, Moses Dunbar, and the American Revolution, Virginia DeJohn Anderson explores these questions by examining the lives, loyalties, deaths, and historical memory of Nathan Hale and Moses Dunbar. Coming at a time when scholarship increasingly recognizes that the Revolution was a far more complicated affair than the typical grand narrative allows, the book is both groundbreaking and relevant.

As readers will see once again in this work, allegiance was far messier than merely choosing to support Loyalists or Patriots. Anderson’s work is a microhistory of two individuals with a highly engaging biographical narrative that shows how social networks, circumstances, and localized concerns influenced loyalties and decisions. Within the context of eighteenth century Connecticut, Anderson also provides details specific to that colony that helps explain why events transpired as they did and their reverberating effects. Highly engaging, eloquent, and convincing, the narrative at once further complicates and yet clarifies how the Revolution played out on a localized scale.

For this year’s honorable mention, we chose a published collection of primary source material, because of our belief that first-hand information is essential to understanding this crucial era in American history. The Revolutionary War Lives and Letters of Lucy and Henry Knox by Phillip Hamilton (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017) makes available a collection of correspondence that is both historically significant and personally touching, providing a volume that is entertaining as well as being a useful resource. The JAR review had this to say:

Overall, these letters illustrate the equal partnership of the Knox marriage. The military and business content in Henry’s letters shows that he appreciated, respected, and recognized Lucy’s intelligence in her own right. Most men of the time would likely not think such business something to discuss with women, or something they could even understand. Henry’s honesty in this matter illustrates their closeness; a true appreciation for each other made everlasting due to the long separations of their early marriage.

The Revolutionary War Lives and Letters of Lucy and Henry Knox is an extraordinary primary source of military movements and life, social customs, economic changes and hardships, and domestic life during the American Revolution. Henry and Lucy wrote to each other in an accessible and easily understood manner, making comprehension easier as well as helping the reader relate to this married couple–not so different from married couples of today. Historical letters often bring humanity and emotion to the cold facts of history. Furthermore, Phillip Hamilton adequately provides historical context to the letters and their writers, as well as offering insight and interpretation of Lucy and Henry’s words. Not only will this rich historical record aid researchers, but also historical fiction authors looking to capture the flavor of language and society during this time.

The Journal of the American Revolution takes care to review significant contributions to the field. Despite being excellent contenders, we do not consider JAR Books for our awards. Other valuable works for 2017 can be accessed through the Book Review page. For more information about the Journal of the American Revolution Book of the Year Award, please visit https://allthingsliberty.com/bookawards/.

Past winners:

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1 Comment

  • Excellent choice! I thoroughly enjoyed The Martyr & The Traitor. A very interesting & tragic micro-history of these two young & the events leading up to their respective fates.

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