Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts, 3/5
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.]
Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts, 4/5
This book took me completely by surprise. I expected it to be a dry and boring account of some sort of exploration expedition. It turned out to be an extremely well-written, engrossing historical fiction about the exploits of Robert Rogers, leader of Rogers’ Rangers, told through the eyes of artist Langdon Towne. The novel is divided into two parts and I was disappointed to find that Book II did not demonstrate the same wit and unstrained style as Book I (if it had, I would have given the novel 5/5).