What is the focus of your research and writing?
I review books about the Revolutionary period. I’ve always enjoyed reading book reviews, but often felt frustrated when they would fail in what I regard as their essential mission: to give me a sense of whether I’d enjoy reading the book being reviewed. I hope that at the very least my readers come away with that.
What inspired you to start researching and writing about the Revolution?
I’ve always loved American history, and the Revolution has always one of my favorite periods, along with the Civil War. About a decade ago I was listening to the Yale Open Course on the Revolution, and I found myself wanting to know much more about the events and individuals involved. So, I combined this interest with my desire to write the sorts of book reviews I’d want to read.
What is it about the Revolutionary Period that most interests you?
The constitutional ideology behind the struggle has been the subject of much of my interest. For a long period before the conflict broke out, two peoples that shared a common legal heritage eventually developed a very different understanding of what it meant in practice. I’m also fascinated by the role played by the Revolution’s leaders. It’s not often that those with the most to lose lead the way in an effort that appears to be such a long shot. Why Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the others decided that they’d risk their life, liberty and property rather than remain part of the British Empire is another question that fascinates me.
Which historians or books have most influenced your work? Why?
Joanne Freeman was the Open Course professor, so I start with her. I enjoy reading Gordon Wood’s books, essays and book reviews, and have probably read as much of his work as anyone else’s on the Revolutionary period. I particularly appreciate his sensitivity to the notion that the past is a “different country” to borrow T.L. Hartley’s phrase, and that the historian’s job is to rebuild it such that we can understand events it through the eyes of those who lived them. Finally, Jack Greene’s work on the Revolution’s causes resonate strongly with me as he focuses on the constitutional issues that I find so interesting in explaining the Revolution’s causes.
What books about the American Revolution do you most often recommend?
Wood’s short The American Revolution is the work I recommend for those looking for an introduction to the subject, while Robert Middlekauf’s The Glorious Cause is my “go to” for a single volume that covers all the bases. Edmund Morgan’s The Meaning of Independence is another short, but very insightful look at what the Revolution meant to Washington, Adams and Jefferson. Andrew O’Shaugnessy’s The Men Who Lost America is a fascinating look at the Revolution from the British perspective. David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing is my model study of an individual campaign. But as a book reviewer, I’d start by asking someone what they had read already and what they were particularly looking to learn before making recommendations.
What new research/writing projects are you currently working on?
Having just finished a review of a new work on Valley Forge, I’m waiting for the first volume of Rick Atkinson’s projected trilogy on the Revolution, which I’ll be reviewing for the JAR. I also have some books on my shelf I’ve used for research but have been meaning to read start to finish.
Which book that you have reviewed for the Journal of the American Revolution has been your favorite?
Well, the only book to receive a “10” from me so far is Stephen Knott’s and Tony William’s Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America. I was surprised to learn that this vital relationship had been neglected while so many others had been studied, so it was overdue. In addition, they seemed to pack everything I thought needed saying about these two men and their relationship in both a beautifully written manner and into a highly readable space. That’s quite a trick.
Why is the Journal of the American Revolution important to you?
The Journal of the American Revolution is an amazing resource. The breadth of the research is astounding, and I’m amazed at the devotion that its authors demonstrate in their amateur research, and of course I’m using amateur in the best sense of the word – someone who performs their task voluntarily, purely out of love for their subject. The expertise is breathtaking. Although my contributions are limited to reviewing books, I am in awe of those who spend their time digging through the archives to bring often neglected aspects of the Revolutionary period to life.
What other hobbies/interests do you enjoy?
If I’m not reading and writing, I’m likely listening to music, watching old movies, or following baseball. I particularly enjoy coaching my son’s team.