In 1791, at the frontier headwaters of the Ohio River, gangs with blackened faces began to attack federal officials, beating and torturing the collectors who plagued them with the first federal tax ever laid on an American product, whiskey. In only a few years, those attacks snowballed into an organized regional movement dedicated to resisting the fledgling government's power and threatening secession, even civil war.
With an unsparing look at both Hamilton and Washington, and at lesser-known, equally determined frontier leaders such as Herman Husband and Hugh Henry Brackenridge, journalist and popular historian William Hogeland offers an insightful, fast-paced account of the remarkable characters who perpetrated this forgotten revolution, and those who suppressed it. To Hamilton, the whiskey tax was key to industrial growth and could not be permitted to fail. To hard-bitten people in what was then the wild West, the tax paralyzed their economies while swelling the coffers of greedy creditors and industrialists. To President Washington, the settlers' resistance catalyzed the first-ever deployment of a huge federal army, led by the president himself, a military strike to suppress citizens who threatened American sovereignty.
Daring, finely crafted, by turns funny and darkly poignant, The Whiskey Rebellion promises a surprising trip for readers unfamiliar with this primal national drama, whose climax is not the issue of mere taxation but the very meaning and purpose of the American Revolution.
©2006 William Hogeland; (P)2006 Tantor Media, Inc.
I really enjoyed this book. Like the other reviewer, I was a bit surprised to hear a British accent from the narrator, but Simon Vance is one of the very best narrators. (He also uses the names Richard Matthews and Robert Whitfield, but they're all the same man).
This book provides rich historical detail about the very early days of the United States. The author does an excellent job providing background information. So the chapter on Herman Husband, who believed the (then) Western US (ie Western PA and VA) would be the New Jerusalem of Revelation, is really an excellent overview of all the religious currents running through American society at the time.
There's also great detail on the debate over federal taxation and Hamilton's agency in getting the whiskey excise tax implemented.
The reason for 4 stars and not 5 is that the author's explanation of the unfolding of the Rebellion is so compressed as to lack sense. This is surprising since his attention to detail everywhere else in the book is so thorough.
I would also recommend this book only to those who already have an interest in early American history. For the more general reader, I suggest 1776 and Washington's Crossing.
Having only heard vague references to the Whiskey Rebellion, and thinking it sounded rather interesting, I got this book. Wow! Hogeland can really tell a story! Not only does he turn names into characters with strengths and idiosyncrasies, but he translates the words and deeds of 18th century men into terms that can be understood today. This is one of the best histories on a discreet subject I have read/heard. Simon Vance’s narration is excellent, as usual. He is able to bring the characters to life. I admit that I was surprised to hear an English accent reading American history, but it worked. Between the author and the narrator, it seems as if you are watching the events unfold. There are interesting thumbnails of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. There are intense descriptive passages – how whiskey was made – the horror of being tarred and feathered. But really, the best part was how human the people seemed to be. I very much enjoyed the book, and would recommend it for anyone who likes a good history story.
I bought this book because I live near Berlin, PA, which celebrates the Whiskey Rebellion every year. I wanted to find out what exactly Berlin's role was in this incident in history. As it turns out, they never really mentioned Berlin (pretty funny, actually) but I was spellbound by what I learned about the actual event, as well as the history of the time. Great read if you're a history buff!
I've listened to hundreds of Audible titles and dozens of great books. This is among the best. This is a portrait of Hamilton I've not read elsewhere and I learned that as far back as the founding, well-connected members of the government were striving to crush our liberties and bring us into bondage to a hyper-active central government. The book is not a Libertarian screed however and its treatment of all sides is very fair. It does move about quickly and take some sharp turns which is why I'll take the time to listen to it again. I can truly say I learned a ton of new information despite having read dozens of titles about this period of US history. A truly great book.
A textbook would be more interesting to read than this book. Don't buy.
Dry & Boring
Probably the most important criterion of a good audiobook is that you find yourself wanting to keep listening, rather than having to force yourself to keep coming back. This book fell somewhere in the middle for me. I chose it over some other things to listen to, but I had no trouble stopping it to do other things. I found it most interesting for its insights into characters I knew or knew of, especially Alexander Hamilton who comes off as a real scoundrel, and to a lesser extent Washington, who comes off as Hamilton's patsy. There were a lot of other people I'd never heard of whose names I won't really remember.
Overall, the story, through no fault of the author's, lacks drama. It's actually much more of a farce, interspersed with a lot of suffering by the little people. Almost nobody seems to appreciate the gravity of the issues involved--Westerners insist that summons against them for illegal stills must be destroyed before they'll lay down arms and release hostages, all the while they're committing high treason. But ultimately, things don't become that grave as almost everyone is pardoned.
The book, and really the history itself, raises some interesting issues, but does almost nothing to resolve them. Perhaps that's just how things were back then. People lived separate enough lives (weeks of travel apart), and there was enough opportunity for everyone (vast tracks of cheap land) that all these resentments could be allowed to fester pretty well unresolved. Unfortunately, that doesn't give us all that much guidance or insight for our contemporary political struggles.
This is a worthwhile listen. It does a relatively good job of filling in this often missed part of early US history. I like how it develops the political thinking of some of our less well known founders. The writing is good, but it could be more entertaining.
I will concur with reviewer Michael and others who claim this book is best suited for listeners with a strong interest/background in early U.S. History. I'm sure it's a great book so I'm giving it two stars with the caveat that the two stars rating only applies to losers like myself who have a limited knowledge of this era.
Great narrator as well.
This was my first audio book encounter with this portion of our American history.
I found the story somewhat hard to follow, and the narrators accent a bit of a distraction. Even so, I think it was a good purchase and I will recommend this title to friends interested in early politics of the U.S.
Lots of detail about a little-known chapter in early history of the country, with interesting insight into frontier life shortly after the Revolution. Drawback: scattered timelines made it hard to orient myself in time. Nevertheless, worth the time and money.
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