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The Fate Of A Nation

March 2023
1min read

Paul Revere’s Ride

by David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 445 pages, $27.50 . CODE: OUP -6

David Hackett Fischer’s splendid new book is satisfying on every level from adventure tale to civics lesson. Paul Revere is indeed at the center of the story, but Fischer’s meticulous reconstruction of his ride has a larger purpose: in restoring to a shopworn allegorical figure the decisive role he actually played in great events, the author means to remind us of the importance of contingency in history. If Paul Revere hadn’t ridden when he did, if he hadn’t spread the word of the British expedition coming from Boston with a particularly effective combination of courage and intelligence, the Middlesex militia could not have rallied with the speed and in the numbers that it did—and the American Revolution might not have broken out on April 19, 1775.

Fischer does not make his case through argument but through narrative, a headlong tale told so effectively that its momentum carries the reader right on through the lively endnotes. On the way there is courage and carnage (it’s easy to forget how very brutal things got that spring afternoon) and even a good deal of humor before Lord Percy’s exhausted redcoats finally stagger back into Boston while, writes Fischer, “the sun was setting on the ruins of an empire.”

Throughout the book Fischer measures Revere against another man who believed in liberty and the rule of law: Thomas Gage, the unhappy commander of all the British forces in North America. “We have much to learn from these half-remembered men,” he writes, “—a set of truths that our generation has lost or forgotten. In their different ways, they knew that to be free is to choose. The history of a free people is a history of hard choices. In that respect, when Paul Revere alarmed the Massachusetts countryside, he was carrying a message for us.”

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