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  • Writer's pictureJulie Mackin

A History Covered in Bloods

In which we learn a lot about an all-American family we knew nothing about

American Bloods by John Kaag

Stars: 4

The tagline of Kaag’s book, the untamed dynasty that shaped a nation, is what initially interested me in this book. According to the book's blurb, the Bloods were one of America’s first pioneer families, involved in the major moments that shaped the country: the Revolution, the Civil War, and westward expansion. So how had I never heard of them? So I was ready for the standard history of a family, introducing me to the Bloods when they arrived in America and how generations of the clan contributed to the various events from the 1600s on. And though Kaag definitely gives the reader a history of the family, it is not what I would call traditional history. Instead he looks at a few select Bloods and shows how they reacted to those major events.

The sections dealing with the American Revolution and the Industrial age are well done and Kaag uses them to show the overall history of the times. But where the book really shines was an instance where the Bloods feel more adjacent to the story than the leading characters. In Kaag’s discussion of Perez Blood, a descendant that lived on part of the original Blood homestead in Concord in the 1800s, he highlights Perez’s solitary life with his single sisters and telescope he created. But he also describes how this hermit was of great interest to Emerson and Thoreau, two of Concord’s leading Transcendentalists. Kaag spends a great deal of time discussing Emerson and Thoreau and the movement they started. Both are fascinating characters and examination and analysis of Transcendentalism is excellent, especially his discussions of Thoreau and his work, but it felt a little removed from the story of this family. 

Still, I would highly recommend this book. I listened to the audiobook and it was excellent. It felt very on point to be listening as I drove up Interstate 95 North and Route 3 North, passing the towns that the Bloods played such an important role in: Concord, Carlisle, Billerica, and Manchester. It has certainly inspired me to make a visit to the Old Manse and Esterbrook Woods this summer. 

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