This book about the women behind the men behind the American Revolution provides an interesting historical perspective but is not very engagingly presented. Much of it felt dry and unfocused, switching dizzyingly from character to character and at times reading more like a genealogy or a college research essay than a polished product of academic research. Also, I found Roberts’ editorial interjections to be annoying and unscholarly, distracting from the main content.
Despite these issues, I was struck by two aspects of the historical period that I hadn’t considered before. One was the fact that, despite the turmoil of the times and the lack of spousal support (with husbands constantly away for business, politics and war), these women produced babies at a staggeringly high rate. You would think that people would be reluctant to bring children into lives that were so threatened by immediate violence and economic instability, but that didn’t seem to slow them down at all. The only thing more surprising than the number of children they had was the number that died – birthing and burying seemed to be the main domestic occupation.
The other aspect that almost made this book worthwhile was its portrayal of how, with independence achieved, the United States were extremely resistant to the establishment of a centralised, federal government. Many politicians of the time despaired of ever creating a stable country, much less a constitution that everyone could agree on. It seems that the extreme distrust and skepticism of the government evinced by many modern-day conservatives is a legitimate inheritance from their revolutionary forebears.
[Why I read it: passed on to me by a friend who had finished with it.]