MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Rediscovery of America gets off to a slow start by belaboring a straw man: \'historians\' who have neglected the American Indian past ... Who are these bad historians? Blackhawk’s introduction identifies only two, one of them dead ... In the early chapters Blackhawk’s book lacks cohesion and flow, looping back and forth in time with much repetition ... The Rediscovery of America gains momentum as the narrative moves beyond the colonial period and into the American Revolution ... As Blackhawk’s narrative reaches our current day, he shows how Native Americans continue to express the duality fundamental to their way of life: an ability to manage change while preserving identity, traditions and sovereignty. Native endurance enriches the American ideal of a democratic society for all.
MixedThe Washington PostLacking new documents from Adams, Schiff settles for recounting the famous events of colonial resistance in Boston ... Schiff never quite knows whether to admire or distrust the elusive yet ubiquitous Adams. She praises his financial integrity, which kept him poor; his principled aversion to slavery; and his attention to common people. But Schiff feels uneasy with his suspicious monomania that rejected any \'peace and quiet\' in governance ... Concentrating on just a dozen years, 1763 to 1775, Schiff devotes less than a 10th of her book to the last third of Adams’s life. That disproportion slights the postwar failure of his push to make a Christian Sparta among citizens more devoted to making money and buying consumer goods. It is an oddly truncated biography that says nothing about Adams’s abortive crusade, during the 1780s, to discredit a Boston social club called Sans Souci, where the city’s new elite pursued pleasure rather than virtue ... A gifted popular writer, Schiff deftly describes the surfaces of people and places, setting a shiny stage for Adams. But she balks at probing the sources of his relentless challenge to power as a threat to liberty ... Schiff also declines to assess Adams’s legacy for us today. More than anyone, he worked a conspiracy theory into our national origins. Ever since, discontented people have claimed a mandate to champion an imperiled liberty against some powerful, secretive cabal. In Adams’s time, such fears helped create a republic. Now that dread threatens to subvert our republic in favor of populist authoritarianism. So, should we celebrate or mourn what Adams bequeathed to us? Schiff does not say.
PositiveThe Scotland Herald (UK)The place in which many of us now live, which Coe describes in dismaying and delicious detail, is pockmarked with pound shops, garden centres and food banks ... Merrie England has metamorphosed into Misanthropic England. It’s as if a swathe of the population has until the last few years been in a coma from which it has been rescued by the likes of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage. One of the questions this often wickedly funny and timely novel asks is whether this is the real, unvarnished England, the one which decent English people, such as John Major and the murdered MP Jo Cox, knew in their gut was there all the while but preferred to pretend otherwise. Middle England makes for a grim if enthralling read though how it will weather after 11pm on 29 March next year is anyone’s guess.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThe author...excels when writing about sailors and the ocean. He vividly renders the interplay of skill and chaos in naval combat by massive fleets, as well as the fury of hurricanes ... Much of the time, In the Hurricane’s Eye delivers on the author’s promise to put \'the sea where it properly belongs: at the center of the story\' ... Mr. Philbrick’s narrative bogs down, however, when it becomes too terrestrial, detailing too closely the tedious slog of armies across the vast stretches and swollen rivers of the Carolinas during 1780-1781. He inflates the importance of the traitor Benedict Arnold (one of the subjects of his previous book). And by marooning readers on land for too many pages and through too many digressions, Mr. Philbrick misses a golden opportunity to explain the failure of Congress to sustain a credible navy ... Apparently uneasy with crediting the foreign forces for victory, Mr. Philbrick diminishes the achievements of the French commanders, in order to render Washington the ultimate architect of victory and the \'genius\' of the book’s subtitle. Although this may be astute marketing, this gambit requires authorial gymnastics ... Mr. Philbrick astutely concludes, \'the United States was a facade of a country—a collection of squabbling states with the barest window dressing of a federal government.\'
Gordon S. Wood
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...[a] lucid and learned dual biography ... Mr. Wood wants to admire the democratic Jefferson more than the skeptical Adams, but biographical details often pull the author toward reversing that assessment. If Jefferson was the smoother politician, Adams seems the better man to Mr. Wood...But, ultimately, this reversal will not do for Mr. Wood or, he insists, America. In the epilogue, he scuttles back to more-familiar assessments ... In the end, Mr. Wood casts Americans as needing consoling illusions because they cannot face 'stubborn facts.' If so, the true pessimist is not Adams but Mr. Wood.