Best books...chosen by Alan Taylor
Historian Alan Taylor is the author of two Pulitzer Prize–winning works on early America, including 2013’s The Internal Enemy. His new book, American Revolutions, revisits the multiple conflicts that sparked our war for independence.
Independence Lost by Kathleen DuVal (Random House, $18). DuVal’s lively, deeply researched book recovers the dramatic story of how the revolution played out in the borderlands contested by the Spanish, British, and Americans—as well as by an array of native peoples and by runaway slaves seeking freedom.
Pox Americana by Elizabeth A. Fenn (Hill & Wang, $17). By tracing the course and impact of a deadly epidemic that swept through the continent between 1775 and 1782, Fenn reveals the interplay of environment, health, and war. Because it halted the Continental Army’s invasion of Canada and aided the patriots’ defense of Virginia, smallpoxz shaped the course of revolution.
The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed (Norton, $22). A consummate work of historical research and imagination, this National Book Award winner recovered the story of Thomas Jefferson’s dependence on an enslaved family who previously had served his father-inlaw. The book sheds light on the tangled relationship of enslaved labor and the new nation’s political leadership.
Tom Paine’s Iron Bridge by Edward G. Gray (Norton, $27). Thomas Paine was a polymath, it turns out, who designed innovative bridges as well as a radical politics. Vividly written and rich with insight, this book about his attempts to build an ideal America illuminates the nexus of politics, science, and art in the age of revolutions.
A Revolution in Color by Jane Kamensky (Norton, $35). The greatest American artist of the 18th century, John Singleton Copley, preferred life in Britain, escaping to it from the bitter civil war that we call the American Revolution. In this lucidly written biography, out next month, Jane Kamensky renders the age in tones as complex and compelling as the interplay of light and shade in the finest Copley painting.
Ordinary Courage by Joseph Plumb Martin (Wiley-Blackwell, $27). This memoir is the liveliest and most revealing account of the Revolution that we have from a common soldier. Martin, who joined the fight at 15 and bore every hardship short of death, blamed political leaders and selfish officers for the neglect suffered by enlisted men, whose endurance proved essential to victory.