Friday, October 18, 2013

Revolutionary Mothers - Carol Berkin

Summary:  The American Revolution was a home-front war that brought scarcity, bloodshed, and danger into the life of every American. In this groundbreaking history, Carol Berkin shows us how women played a vital role throughout the conflict.

The women of the Revolution were most active at home, organizing boycotts of British goods, raising funds for the fledgling nation, and managing the family business while struggling to maintain a modicum of normalcy as husbands, brothers and fathers died. Yet Berkin also reveals that it was not just the men who fought on the front lines, as in the story of Margaret Corbin, who was crippled for life when she took her husband’s place beside a cannon at Fort Monmouth. This incisive and comprehensive history illuminates a fascinating and unknown side of the struggle for American independence.  (Image and summary taken from

My Review:  I started out so excited to read this book.  After two months of not reading for my challenge, I was finally back on track – and what a better read than to gain some new heroines of the American Revolution during July?!  Perfect pairing, right?  When I set out for our library (oh, the adventures of this new library system – the stories I can tell already!), I saw this on display, and the cover promising detailed accounts of women’s support and strength during the revolution.  However, only about a third of the book actually deals with women who supported the American Revolution and that research is shallow at best.  The women who are discussed are done so briefly, with their contributions, personal history, and impact rarely taking more than three paragraphs.  The second two-thirds of the book deal with loyalist women, wives of Hessian generals, Native American women, and African-American women who happened to be in America at the time of the Revolution.  It made the whole book come across as bitter and vengeful – and while I understand that war is terrible and too often it’s the women left behind who suffer the most, I felt that it was misplaced research.

Overall, this book was very poorly put together.  I had a writing professor offer me a wonderful piece of advice my sophomore year.  He knew I had my major picked out and my courses laid out to graduation, so he counseled me to choose every paper topic I could to support what would eventually be my senior thesis.  His point was that when I reached that point, my thesis would essentially write itself, as I would have already done the research and refined my argument.  This book felt like the antithesis of that advice – like Berkin had done all this research but didn’t really have anywhere to stick it or to make it cohesive, so she crammed it into one tome.  It took me nearly a month to read, mainly because I’d get so bored by the lack of substance I’d start playing Candy Crush (seriously), or do the dishes, or just watch a show.   When she would breach a subject that offered promise, she either copped out with “Tales have been written”  or “Countless history books have documented …”.  Yes?  And did you research those?  Because instead of checking out every single book that may have ever mentioned a woman who lived during this time, I checked out yours.  I want those stories.  Don’t make me go do your research, just do it properly! 

This was a frustrating read.  I found it shallow, unfocused, without coherent argument, and disappointing.

My Rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is a chapter devoted to the handling of rapes on both sides of the war.

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