Reviews for The Revolutionary

by Stacy Schiff

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author recounts Samuel Adams’ instrumental role in triggering the events that would lead to the American Revolution. Though he is typically overshadowed by such towering contemporaries as Washington, Jefferson, and Adams’ second cousin, John Adams, Samuel’s behind-the-scenes machinations were a crucial factor in setting in motion the wheels of revolution. In her latest, Schiff enthusiastically digs through much of the limited material available on her subject. In a calculated move, Samuel destroyed countless documents and most of his personal correspondence, leaving little for future biographers to unearth. “He operated by stealth, melting into committees and crowd actions, pseudonyms and smoky back rooms,” writes Schiff. “ ‘There ought to be a memorial to Samuel Adams in the CIA,’ quips a modern historian, dubbing him America’s first covert agent. We are left to read him in the twisted arm, the borrowed set of talking points, the indignation of America’s enemies. We know more about him from his apoplectic adversaries than from his friends, sworn to secrecy.” Schiff exhaustively dissects whatever was written about him by his contemporaries, and she also explores the numerous politically charged essays that he submitted under pseudonyms to newspapers such as the Boston Gazette, many of which openly criticized British colonial policy. Schiff provides a penetrating analysis of Samuel’s tactics and motivations, and in tracing his story from his unassuming and somewhat aimless roots as a failed businessman to his role as a highly influential American statesman, she reveals how his grounded idealism was present from the outset and remained consistent throughout his life. This is a meticulously researched and often eloquent work of historical biography, but it’s an occasionally dry cerebral exercise, lacking some of the author’s typical storytelling verve. Still, Schiff offers a welcome, fresh study featuring notions of liberty and democracy that feel particularly relevant in today’s consistently tumultuous political landscape. A sturdy portrait of Samuel Adams for our times. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.