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Publisher's Summary

Nathaniel Philbrick, the bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea and Mayflower, brings his prodigious talents to the story of the Boston battle that ignited the American Revolution.

Boston in 1775 is an island city occupied by British troops after a series of incendiary incidents by patriots who range from sober citizens to thuggish vigilantes. After the Boston Tea Party, British and American soldiers and Massachusetts residents have warily maneuvered around each other until April 19, when violence finally erupts at Lexington and Concord. In June, however, with the city cut off from supplies by a British blockade and Patriot militia poised in siege, skirmishes give way to outright war in the Battle of Bunker Hill. It would be the bloodiest battle of the Revolution to come, and the point of no return for the rebellious colonists.

Philbrick brings a fresh perspective to every aspect of the story. He finds new characters, and new facets to familiar ones. The real work of choreographing rebellion falls to a thirty-three year old physician named Joseph Warren who emerges as the on-the-ground leader of the Patriot cause and is fated to die at Bunker Hill. Others in the cast include Paul Revere, Warren's fiancee, the poet Mercy Scollay, a newly recruited George Washington, the reluctant British combatant General Thomas Gage and his more bellicose successor William Howe, who leads the three charges at Bunker Hill and presides over the claustrophobic cauldron of a city under siege as both sides play a nervy game of brinkmanship for control.

With passion and insight, Philbrick reconstructs the revolutionary landscape - geographic and ideological - in a mesmerizing narrative of the robust, messy, blisteringly real origins of America.

©2013 Nathaniel Philbrick (P)2013 Penguin Audio

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  • Rick
  • Murrieta, CA, United States
  • 09-30-13

Another Fantastic Story by Philbrick

Phlegm, Bile, Black Blood and Red Blood. My God! How did we ever make it as a race let alone a country? That little tie bit is just a taste of some of the rocks Mr. Philbrick has overturned to give us the story behind Bunker Hill and the hardships the American Patriots overcame to become the United States. People like (Dr.) Warren, and Church, Washington and Adams as well as countless other took on the 18th century just as ardent as the themselves. The redcoats were really no match then, were they?

I'm never disappointed when I read a Philbrick book. Whether he tells of the wooden whaling ships on the high seas or the same on an expedition. The story behind the Mayflower or Custer's last stand, he never lets the reader down. Bunker Hill is just another fine example of the writer sharing a story in a way that makes sense to the reader without dumbing it down, and without the endless ramble of how we got from page 1 to page 2..

This book was enjoyable, finishing it in about a weekend. And a big part of that goes to Mr. Chris Sorenson whose even tone and inflection made the book even easier to read/listen to. For a moment, I thought I was hearing Dylan Baker (Steve Jobs) which I read/listened to 3 times. Very easy on the ears. Well done!

This book is a credit well spent, and well worth the 12 hours to hear. Traveling in a few weeks, I may pop it in again!

33 of 35 people found this review helpful

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Excellent Narrative of The Period

The Battle of Bunker Hill. Most Americans have heard of this famous battle. June 17, 1775, the British forces led by General William Howe attacked the newly fortified Colonial position on Breed’s Hill and were repulsed on the first two attempts. On the third attempt the Colonial forces were finally forced to pull back due to lack of powder. The battle was not a large battle, fewer than 6,000 soldiers were involved. This would have been considered barely a skirmish in Europe. Yet this fight lives on in American legend.

Nathaniel Philbrick turns his talent to the story of this famous battle. He starts the book well before the events of that fateful day. He recounts the struggles between the colonial population and the British government over issues such as taxation. He gives a lot of detail about the nature and use of mob violence in colonial world. Philbrick spends a lot of time on this subject. He paints a rather terrifying spectacle of these mobs. One of the stories he relates is of an outspoken supporter of government policy who is taken from his home, dragged through the town, tarred, feathered, beaten, and almost hanged before the crowd is through with him.

There are two prominent characters in this book that we don’t hear enough about today: Joseph Warren and Samuel Adams. These were the two primary leaders in the anti-government movement. Samuel Adams, the elder of the two was a well known rabble rouser. He understood how to work the crowds and to use every situation to his advantage. Joseph Warren was one of the most respected physicians in Boston. He was also dedicated to the cause of liberty. He was, by all accounts, a great orator and a tireless worker on behalf of the cause. Philbrick spends a lot of time speculating as to whether he fathered a child by a maid. This may be the weakest part of the book. It really doesn’t matter whether or not Warren fathered this child and it does nothing to tell the story.

A good amount of the book deals with the lead up to the British march on Lexington and Concord, and with the actual fights on that April day. I was not aware of the British atrocities committed on the retreat to Boston until I read this book. Many of the dead Americans were civilians who were simply murdered by the British who were enraged over being forced to retreat.

Philbrick spends a lot of time on the battle itself. The main part of the battle was actually fought on Breed’s Hill, not Bunker Hill. The colonial forces were supposed to fortify Bunker Hill, but went to far forward and dug in to a less defensible position on Breed’s Hill. The British success drove the colonial forces off of Breed’s Hill and then Bunker Hill. It was in the defense of Breed’s Hill that Joseph Warren has killed. His loss was felt strongly by all who knew him.

Philbrick is a very good writer and knows how to keep the narrative flowing. He has found a lot of interesting stories and a lot of interesting characters. This is an easy to read, enjoyable book that can read with little or no background knowledge of the subject.

25 of 29 people found this review helpful

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Riveting.

Slow start and the reader isn't quite as good as valiant ambition but it gathers steam and the end is unputdownable. The characters and the action comes to life. Brilliant if the revolutionary war is of any interest to you at all

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Good but a little boring

I enjoyed listening to this book, but overall I did not learn very much except about Joseph Warren perhaps, and it was a little disjointed as sometimes the timeline jumped around. This is a non-fiction and I was actually expecting a bit of non-fiction. If you have not read many other books about 1775 Mass or the Siege of Boston this is a great way to start, but you might have to write down or look up some timelines to make sure you know where you are.

The performance was solid and definitely kept me interested - a boring performance would have made this book less appealing.

14 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Should be required reading...

Living within an hour of Bunker and Breed's Hills, this story resonated with me perhaps a bit more than most. In these times, being aware of our country's history-the sacrifices and noble goals which shaped it from its onset-is something every school child should intimately know. I found it refreshing to revisit my local-and our early history-once again.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating and Detailed

So far I've listened to it twice! This is an incredible book for a history buff. I loved the details about the battles and the way they were regarded by the participants. Well worth 'reading' and enjoying - this is a permanent part of my library now.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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American Rubicon

True, this is the same old story, from the afterglow of victory in the French and Indian War to the ham-handed efforts of London to manage her massively enhanced empire (and even more massively enhanced post-war deficit), to the suspicions those efforts aroused in colonists who had pretty much had their way for the past century, to the musket shot (fired by whom we still do not, and never will, know) on Lexington Common to the amateurish Siege of Boston and the bloody day on Breed’s (not Bunker) Hill.

I’ve been reading about this period for years. But as told here, the old story is fresh. Not because the facts have changed, but because the persons and sources Philbrick uses are fresh, as are his perspective and insights. There are many quotes I’ve never run across before, things I never knew (the origin, for example, of the overnight fortification of Dorchester Heights) and thoughts that had never occurred to me. Maybe I’ve just forgotten 99% of what I’ve read (a distinct possibility), but I enjoyed this book immensely.

In his Preface, Philbrick puts his finger on his fascinating theme: “the arrival of the moment when neutrality is no longer an option”. While Lexington, Concord and the running battle back to Boston are obviously important, Bunker Hill was the American Rubicon, the “decisive day”, as John Quincy Adams would always call it. June 17, 1775 saw the first deliberate clash between formally (or, in the Provincial’s case, semi-formally) organized forces. As Richard Ketchum wrote in his fine study of the same event (entitled, fittingly enough, “Decisive Day”), the men who marched out of Cambridge to fortify Breed’s Hill were, “in their own peculiar fashion…the first of a long, long line of American battle contingents to be sent forth against an enemy in some kind of planned movement.” That that plan went wrong from the beginning; that men who thought they were digging up Bunker Hill found, by the dawn’s early light, that they were far more advanced and terribly exposed, doesn’t negate Ketchum’s insight. The same sort of thing happened at Chickamauga and Anzio.

That parallel is a good example of why I found this listen so satisfying. Philbrick supports and strengthens the picture I’ve formed over the years, while giving new details and his own focus.

For example, he centers his story around the figure of Doctor Joseph Warren, someone for whom I finally have a better appreciation. In much that I have read Hancock, Sam and John Adams, bustling off to Continental Congresses, have always seemed to overshadow him. But as Philbrick writes, while they bustled, Warren was, “orchestrating the on-the-ground reality of a revolution”. His role, as it turns out, was decisive, too.

Consider Warren’s unilateral decision to sound the alarm on the night of April 18th, 1775. The Provincial Congress had laid down rules crafted to prevent a clash; the minutemen should only be mustered if Gage sent a column of at least 500 men into the country, complete with baggage wagons and artillery. The column sent on the night of the 18th had neither wagons nor artillery, but it numbered 700 men. Without consulting those whom the Provincial’s own laws demanded he consult, Warren sent Dawes and Revere to rouse the countryside. The rest, as they say, is history.

Throughout this is a fair-minded, even-handed study. The positions and policies, conundrums and cabals of both sides are given due consideration and equal weight. The provocative overreach and arrogance of London is balanced by an appreciation of the stiff-necked Puritanism or frothy Enlightenment rhetoric to which Patriots subscribed, but without the easy, denigrating cheap shots that would mar a less thoughtful work. He understands that the revolutionaries weren’t out to change the world, but rather retrieve a world that had been lost. What he calls in his Epilogue the “unappreciated radicalism” of the Declaration of Independence would only emerge later, and only gradually. And finally, identifying what is essential to the enjoyment of the story in history, Philbrick reminds us more than once that, though we may know how it all turns out, Doctor Joseph Warren, Samuel Adams, General Thomas Gage and George III didn’t.

Our reader, Chris Sorensen, has just the right pacing. At first I was put off by what struck me as a somewhat sleepy delivery, but I soon found it soothing. Some might detect an ironical glint in his voice, but that dovetails nicely with a story filled with ironies.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A Watershed Event

This book does a great job describing the buildup to the Battle of Bunker Hill. Bunker Hill marks the turning point where there could be no resolution with Britain short of Independence. The book covers much more than just the battle, starting with the beginnings of the tensions between the colonists and Britain and going into the aftermath of the battle and the Siege of Boston. This is highly recommended for any history buffs.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • jb
  • 01-16-16

not Philbrick's best

Only Philbrick's writing could inspire me to continue with this "worst history professor" narration! Not sure i can keep going but I really hope to.

11 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Daryl
  • Houston, TX United States
  • 08-22-15

Nice Historical Story

I enjoyed this listen and admittedly it was a bit of a challenge since I didn't have maps, diagrams, art work, etc. That is a shortcoming of trying to listen to a history book, however, the author is one I enjoy and he makes history sound like a novel. This book is a must if you are interested in the start of the Revolution and/or the city of Boston. Philbrick brings life to historical characters so that one can understand their motivations and actions better. I read this book to prepare myself for an upcoming trip to Boston and I'm glad I did. The narrator gave a nice performance, but there was no different voices as it was not that kind of book. I recommend this book for anyone interested in New England history and the American Revolution.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful