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  • Writer's pictureJulie Mackin

More than just a really good beer

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Stacy Schiff

2023 Frenzied Bibliophile Challenge Category: Massachusetts Center for the Book Challenge - Book Set in your home state

Rating: 5/5 stars

Will you like this book? You might if you like:

  • Early American Revolutionary History

  • Down on their luck tax collectors

  • Fussy colonial characters

  • 18th Century Newspapers

  • Boston Tea Party

So I’ll be honest, am I interested in Sam Adams the historical figure or did I just want an excuse to drink beer while I read this book? Definitely a little of both but skewing more towards the drinking.

I was excited that Schiff had chosen to do a biography of Samuel Adams; there aren’t a lot of bios out there on him and his place in the Revolution doesn't get the attention that I think it deserves. Most Americans think of him as a brewer or a beer (thanks Jim Koch) and don’t realize that he was one of the leding propagandists of the 1760s. He was a prolific writer, contributing articles to various papers under numerous pseudonym. Without his writings, there might not have been a revolution.

This is not a typical, linear biography. Schiff doesn’t start with a background of where Adams was born and raised. Instead we jump right into Adam’s actions during the 1760s and 1770s and by Chapter Two, Adams and Hancock are hiding out, waiting for Paul Revere to come and warn them. Initially, this was a bit disconcerting since I was listening to this on Audible, so it felt like I might have skipped ahead. But in the end, it was part of why I liked the book. Schiff definitely gives the reader some basic biographical information over the course of the book but the focus is Adam’s as the revolutionary,hence the book's title!

Schiff focuses the majority of the book in the uneasy time between the end of the French and Indian War and the beginning of the Revolution. Much of what was happening then, the various taxes and duties that were being levied on the colonies, were what sparked protests in Boston and led to Adams’ writings. Schiff focuses a lot on the lead up to the Boston Massacre, its aftermath and its continued reverberation for the next five years until the start of the Revolution.

But if Adams was so important to the Revolution, why don’t we remember more about him? First,I think that because much of Adams' work was centered in New England. After the war, and as time went on, history focused less and less on the run up to the war and more on the Revolution itself. Obviously we study the Stamp Act and the Tea Party in history in this country, but I think that we see it as inevitable that the colonies would break away from Britain and establish their own country. This was not the case; for a long time, most revolutionaries like Adams, were arguing that Americans (land owning men) had the same rights as British (land owning men) and should have representation in Parliament. That part gets lost a bit because fighting the war is what led to the establishment of the country.

The other reason is that though Adams participated in both Continental Congresses, he returned to Massachusetts in 1781 before the end of the war. He was largely shut out of work that happened post Revolution and he never really returned to the national stage. He continued to be involved in Massachusetts politics, but the prominence that he had prior to the war had waned. As John Adams rose to fame, he eclipsed his cousin and now we tend to remember that Adams more.

Overall a really good read and the more I learned about Adams, the more I like to drink his beer! Also, there is a new biography coming out on John Hancock and I am ready for that since Hancock and Adams relationship is integral to Hancock’s rise.

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