Thomas Jefferson asserted that if there was any true leader of the Revolution, “Samuel Adams was the man.” Adams’ friends praised him as “the man who had the greatest hand in the greatest revolution in the world.” Yet Samuel Adams is the least known of the Founding Fathers. Known for secrecy, modesty and discretion, he burned many, if not most, of his writings and communications. Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize winner, has brilliantly researched and unearthed the details of this true patriot’s life and time. With enthralling and fast paced prose, she has written a fascinating biography.
After graduation from Harvard, Samuel Adams became the definition of a “late bloomer.” He had several career attempts including a gift of seed money from his father to begin his own business. The business failed rapidly and the money was lost. At age 41, fortunately for all of us, his ideals and political genius took over. He began rallying colonists for armed rebellion; he was a singular figure in the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. He listened intently to the British, never revealing his revolutionary passion. Indeed, many believe a monument to him should exist in the CIA. When Paul Revere rode to Lexington, it was to warn Samuel Adams that the British were coming to arrest him for treason. Samuel Adams was the backbone of American Revolution.
Because of Stacy Schiff’s skill at writing descriptive detail, The Revolutionary Samuel Adams reads cinematically. Of Paul Revere’s ride she writes, “A glimmer, a gleam, the hurry of hoofs: a sturdy, square-jawed man speeds through the night, with an urgent message, on a borrowed horse. Revere gallops off to warn of imminent arrest if not outright assassination.” Of the Boston Tea Party, “Soot-faced, fantastically attired, they proceeded with hatchets, clubs, and pistols to the harbor. To faux-Indian commands and whistled signals, they slashed bindings and hacked open chests, heaving tea leaves and splintered wood into the harbor. The tea sank reluctantly. Mostly it collected in thick, furred clots around the hulls.” Schiff’s description of the Tea Party enactors, “they looked like escapees from an impromptu costume party.” Suspense, visual imagery and wit are hallmarks of this terrific book.
I love this biography. And I am not alone. The Revolutionary Samuel Adams appeared on many Best Books of 2022 lists including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Time, Boston Globe, USA Today, and The New Yorker.
It will be difficult for ANY thoughtful American to read this book without comparing the era of Samuel Adams and the American Revolution with our own perilous times. This true hero’s ideals and actions inspire contemplation for the future of our country. The beginning...the best place to start.