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Jun. 26—Regular readers of Nathaniel Philbrick's nonfiction history books should know what to expect from "Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution."
In books such as "Mayflower" (the Pilgrims voyage), "The Last Stand" (Custer at Little Big Horn), "Valiant Ambition" (Benedict Arnold betraying the American Revolution), "In the Heart of the Sea" (a whale encounter that inspired "Moby Dick"), "In the Hurricane's Eye" (George Washington and the victory in Yorktown), Philbrick introduces the players, explores the lay of the land in the given situation and reveals the complex relationships that lead to the crux of each book.
"Bunker Hill" is no different.
Here, Philbrick fleshes out the personalities and stories of people who are often reduced to mere mentions or footnotes in other histories. He explores the political and societal climate that led to the American Revolution but more specifically the boiling undercurrent in Boston which led to open acts of rebellion, vandalism and violence and subsequently the British siege of the Massachusetts city and the famed battle referred to as Bunker Hill.
Again, readers familiar with Philbrick won't be surprised by the detailed complexity of his study of Bunker Hill but they also know to expect surprises — to learn unexpected things along the way.
For example, "In the Heart of the Sea," Philbrick delves into matters of cannibalism for lifeboat survivors of shipwrecks — desperate people often eat the leanest person first because the person weighing the least typically dies first from starvation.
In "Bunker Hill," one of the surprises is the cruel ferocity of the patriots — most history books cover patriots tarring and feathering loyalists and tax bureaucrats but Philbrick reveals the full scope of this tortuous method and other brutal acts.
"Bunker Hill" is one of Philbrick's earlier books and the first of the trilogy of his American Revolution books — which include "Valiant Ambition" and "In the Hurricane's Eye."
It's a book worth laying siege to.