September 21, 2006


Everybody’s Revolution: A New Look at the People Who Won America’s Freedom. By Thomas Fleming. Scholastic. $19.99.

The United States of America: A State-by-State Guide. By Millie Miller & Cyndi Nelson. Scholastic. $7.99.

     Everybody’s Revolution is a history book with a difference – a big difference.  Although it tells some of the same stories of the American Revolution that other books tell, it does so from the perspective of the participants and their families, taking into account their ethnicity, age, gender and more.  This gives the well-known tales an entirely new and very fascinating slant.  For example, everyone knows about the mercenary Hessians who helped the British against the American colonists.  But how many people know that 20% of the fighters in the Continental Army were German-Americans?  And everyone knows about the waves of Irish immigration following the Potato Famine in the 19th century – but how many know that one-third of those fighting for American independence in the 18th century were of Irish ancestry?  There were Dutch fighters against the British, and Huguenots – the French Protestants oppressed and murdered by French Catholics in Europe – and even several thousand Jews, although few Jewish people lived in the colonies at that time.  Thomas Fleming does much more than list ethnicities and religions: he shows how they influenced the war’s outcome.  Patrick Henry and John Paul Jones were Scottish, for example, but many important contributors to the Revolution are less well known: Irish-Americans Maurice O’Brien and Charles Carroll, German-Americans Peter Muhlenberg and Nicholas Herkimer, and many more.  Fleming tells these people’s tales in brief, to-the-point verbal sketches, as well as the stories of Casimir Pulaski and Thaddeus Kosciuszko (Polish), Henry Wisner (Swiss), and many others.  A few people get longer, more detailed biographical sketches, such as Bernardo de Galvez of Spain, who was governor of Louisiana and later became a general who harried the British in Louisiana and Mississippi.  There are chapters here on black fighters, women fighters and child fighters, too, in a book that shows how the desire for freedom overcame many people’s deep-seated differences.

     And where are we today?  The United States of America: A State-by-State Guide gives a brief and clear overview.  Millie Miller and Cyndi Nelson devote one page to each state, plus pages to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, giving a map in the center of each page and highlights about each location in the margins around the map.  Alaska, for example, has both the nation’s northernmost point (Point Barrow) and its westernmost one (Cape Wrangle).  The waters of Florida have more kinds of fish than anywhere else in the entire world.  The Red Delicious apple originated in Iowa, from the shoots of a tree struck by lightning.  Basketball started in 1891 in Massachusetts.  Michigan is called the Wolverine State, but the wolverine is extinct there.  The nation’s driest state is Nevada.  And on and on the facts go, presented simply and in easy-to-read format, none taking up much space in the book or much time to read, but the collection of them showing just how variegated and wide-ranging a land the United States has become since the people of many other lands joined to help give it birth.

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