Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution

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Nathaniel Philbrick, the bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea and Mayflower, brings his prodigious talents to the story of the Boston battle that ignited the American Revolution.

Boston in 1775 is an island city occupied by British troops after a series of incendiary incidents by patriots who range from sober citizens to thuggish vigilantes. After the Boston Tea Party, British and American soldiers and Massachusetts residents  ...

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Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution

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Nathaniel Philbrick, the bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea and Mayflower, brings his prodigious talents to the story of the Boston battle that ignited the American Revolution.

Boston in 1775 is an island city occupied by British troops after a series of incendiary incidents by patriots who range from sober citizens to thuggish vigilantes. After the Boston Tea Party, British and American soldiers and Massachusetts residents  have warily maneuvered around each other until April 19, when violence finally erupts at Lexington and Concord.  In June, however, with the city cut off from supplies by a British blockade and Patriot militia poised in siege, skirmishes give way to outright war in the Battle of Bunker Hill. It would be the bloodiest battle of the Revolution to come, and the point of no return for the rebellious colonists.

Philbrick brings a fresh perspective to every aspect of the story. He finds new characters, and new facets to familiar ones. The real work of choreographing rebellion falls to a thirty-three year old physician named Joseph Warren who emerges as the on-the-ground leader of the Patriot cause and is fated to die at Bunker Hill. Others in the cast include Paul Revere, Warren’s fiancé the poet Mercy Scollay, a newly recruited George Washington, the reluctant British combatant General Thomas Gage and his more bellicose successor William Howe, who leads the three charges at Bunker Hill and presides over the claustrophobic cauldron of a city under siege as both sides play a nervy game of brinkmanship for control.

With passion and insight, Philbrick reconstructs the revolutionary landscape—geographic and ideological—in a mesmerizing narrative of the robust, messy, blisteringly real origins of America.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In popular culture, the Battle of Bunker Hill has lived on mostly as a trick question: Where was the Battle of Bunker Hill fought? (The military confrontation that fully ignited the American Revolution occurred mostly on Breed's Hill.) National Book Award winner Nathaniel Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea; Mayflower; The Last Stand) rescues this pivotal epoch in our history with a revelatory narrative about the full context and unfolding of the bloodiest battle in the War for Independence. Seeing patriots and warriors so clearly that you can see the whites of their eyes.

Library Journal
Philbrick (Mayflower) here takes a fresh look at Boston and its environs from the December 1773 Tea Party through the British evacuation in March 1776. Painting rich portraits of the key players including Sam Adams, Joseph Warren, and British generals Gage and Howe, Philbrick argues that the roots of the American Revolution are to be found in the reactionary ethos of the Colonists, who simply wanted to preserve the status quo in the face of an encroaching British Empire, and that a series of growing misunderstandings and tensions culminated in the title battle. The narration by actor Chris Sorensen is clear and engaging.

Verdict Recommended. [“...an exhaustively researched, intelligent…narrative with a sophisticated approach,” read the review of the New York Times best selling Viking hc, LJ 4/15/13.—Ed.]—Forrest Link, Coll. of New Jersey Lib., Ewing
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

The New York Times Book Review - Joyce E. Chaplin
Philbrick…guides us beautifully through Revolutionary Boston, with the Battle of Bunker Hill as his story's grand climax…
The Washington Post - Walter Isaacson
…a tightly focused and richly detailed narrative…Histories of America's birth tend to glorify the founding fathers…who gathered in a stately hall in Philadelphia to debate whether to declare independence. But Philbrick's focus is on Boston, where that decision was sealed a year earlier by passionate rebels and trigger-happy rabble-rousers. The city…is the book's main protagonist…Philbrick is at his most vivid in conveying scenes of battle, both on the road between Boston and Concord and on the ridges of Bunker Hill. But what adds depth to the narrative is his fine sense of the ambitions that drive people in war and politics.
Publishers Weekly
Like most popular historians, Philbrick (Mayflower) writes about discrete events, not large developments. And he’s good at it, even if the larger context is rarely considered and critical analysis gives way to story and celebration. Here, his focus is on events that began with the humiliations of the British at Lexington and Concord and ended with the siege of Boston, the American victory at Bunker Hill in 1775, and the departure in 1776 of British forces from New England’s largest city. Philbrick correctly presents the battle at Bunker Hill as a critical moment in the opening stages of the War for Independence, and displays an empathy for the out-maneuvered British caught in the traps that the Patriots laid for them. He wisely makes as one of his central figures the Patriots’ charismatic leader, Joseph Warren, who was killed at Bunker Hill, and who has since been largely forgotten, despite having been the man responsible for “orchestrating the on-the-ground reality of a revolution.” Philbrick tells his tale in traditional fashion—briskly, colorfully, and with immediacy. The book would have benefited from a point of view more firmly grounded in a contemporary evaluation of the battle, but even as it is—no one has told this tale better. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky, Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency, Inc. (May)
From the Publisher
“Lively…Philbrick, guides us beautifully through Revolutionary Boston…”
—New York Times Book Review

“Masterly narrative… Philbrick tells the complex story superbly… gripping book…”
—Wall Street Journal

“A masterpiece of narrative and perspective…”—Boston Globe

“You will delight in the story and the multitude of details Philbrick offers up.”—USA Today

“Riveting, fast-paced account…”—Los Angeles Times

“Philbrick writes with freshness and clarity…”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“This is popular history at its best: a taut narrative with a novelist’s touch, grounded in careful research.”—Miami Herald

“Philbrick … has a flair for using primary sources to create scenes that sweep readers into the thick of history…BUNKER HILL is a tour de force, creating as vivid a picture as we are likely to get of the first engagements of the American Revolution…Philbrick is a gifted researcher and storyteller…”—Chicago Tribune

“Philbrick…offers…surprising revelations and others in BUNKER HILL, a comprehensive and absorbing account of a battle…Extraordinary events produce extraordinary individuals, and Philbrick’s portrayals are remarkably penetrating and vivid…Given the scale of the story, Philbrick, confirming his standing as one of America’s pre-eminent historians, somehow manages to address all the essential components in a concise, readable style”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Like a masterly chronicler, [Philbrick] has produced a tightly focused and richly detailed narrative that just happens to resonate with leadership lessons for all times….Philbrick is at his most vivid in conveying scenes of battle, both on the road between Boston and Concord and on the ridges of Bunker Hill. But what adds depth to the narrative is his fine sense of the ambitions that drive people in war and politics.”
—Washington Post

“Another fine history from Nathaniel Philbrick…”—The Economist

“Though you know the ending, you whip through the pages…”—Entertainment Weekly

“Quite masterfully, Philbrick does not sink to simply good and evil distinctions in the run-up to Bunker Hill. The author reminds us that the freedoms colonists wanted were never intended to apply to blacks, American Indians or women. This was a messy time when decisions were sometimes dictated by ambition instead of some nobler trait.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“[Philbrick] captures the drama—martial and emotional—of the months before and after this legendary clash.”—The New Yorker

“Philbrick spices his text with first-person accounts from many participants in the drama, including patriots, loyalists, generals, privates, spies, even the victim of a tar-and-feathering. This is easy-reading history, uncluttered by footnotes and assisted by some excellent maps.”—Seattle Times

“Fascinating….No one can tell you about the history you thought you knew quite like Philbrick…”
—Cape Cod Times

  “Philbrick … will be a candidate for another award with this ingenious, bottom-up look at Boston from the time of the December 1773 Tea Party to the iconic June 1775 battle….A rewarding approach to a well-worn subject, rich in anecdotes, opinion, bloodshed and Byzantine political maneuvering.”—Kirkus (Starred Review)

“Exhaustively researched, intelligent, and engaging narrative with a sophisticated approach. Collections … should certainly acquire this….”—Library Journal

“Philbrick tells his tale in traditional fashion—briskly, colorfully, and with immediacy….no one has told this tale better.”—Publishers Weekly

“Crackling accounts of military movements…a superior talent for renewing interest in a famed event, Philbrick will again be in high demand from history buffs.”—Booklist

“Philbrick shows us historic figures, not only as if they had stepped away from their famous portraits, but as if we had read about them in last week’s newspaper…Philbrick has developed a style that connects the power of narrative to decisive moments in American history.” —Nantucket Today

“A compelling, balanced and fresh narrative.” —Christian Science Monitor

“Philbrick’s research is phenomenal …I suggest you pick up this enjoyable read.” —Washington Independent Review of Books

“You’ll never have history told like this in school. If it were, you might find more kids interested in it.” —The State Journal-Register
“A gripping, suspense-driven recounting of the battles of Bunker and Breed’s Hill…I couldn’t put this book down with its seductive, detail-sharpened, heart-stopping narrative made all the more human by the people involved…powerful, eloquent, infinitely compelling, and just plain awesome.” —Providence Journal

Kirkus Reviews
National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Philbrick (Why Read Moby-Dick, 2011, etc.) will be a candidate for another award with this ingenious, bottom-up look at Boston from the time of the December 1773 Tea Party to the iconic June 1775 battle. Independence Day rhetoric extols our forefathers' battle for freedom against tyranny and unfair taxation, but the author points out that American colonists were the freest, most-prosperous and least-taxed subjects of the British Empire and perhaps the world. A century and a half of London's salutary neglect had resulted in 13 nearly independent colonies. Trouble began in the 1760s when Parliament attempted to tax them to help pay for the ruinously expensive victory in the French and Indian War. Unexpected opposition handled with spectacular clumsiness by Britain guaranteed trouble. Among Massachusetts' resistance leaders, most readers know John Hancock and Samuel Adams, but Philbrick concentrates on Joseph Warren, a charismatic young physician, unjustly neglected today since he died at Bunker Hill. His opposite number, British Gen. Thomas Gage, behaved with remarkable restraint. Despite warnings that it would take massive reinforcements to keep the peace, superiors in London goaded him into action, resulting in the disastrous April 1775 expedition to Lexington and Concord. They also sent a more pugnacious general, William Howe, who decided to expel colonial militias, now besieging Boston, by an uphill frontal attack on their entrenched lines, a foolish tactic. British forces succeeded but suffered massive casualties. It was the first and bloodiest engagement of the eight years of fighting that followed. A rewarding approach to a well-worn subject, rich in anecdotes, opinion, bloodshed and Byzantine political maneuvering.
The Barnes & Noble Review

After the June 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill, the devastating clash that marked a turning point in America's complicated path to independence, Loyalist Jonathan Sewall described life in Boston, a city whose residents had fled as British soldiers arrived in droves to subdue the rebellious colonists. "Death has so long stalked among us that he is become much less terrible to me than he once was," Sewall wrote of the British casualties he encountered. "Funerals are now so frequent that for a month past you meet as many dead folks as live ones in Boston streets, and we pass them with much less emotion and attention than we used to pass dead sheep and oxen in days of yore."

Such was the aftermath of a brutal fight that had technically been won by the Crown; but with more than 1,000 killed or wounded on the British side compared to 115 killed and 305 wounded on the American side, it was a victory that British commander William Howe ruefully called "too dearly bought." In Nathaniel Philbrick's Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, the dramatic retelling of the battlefield action comes as the culmination of a clear-eyed account of the events leading up to it. Bunker Hill, the first major engagement of the American Revolution — and its bloodiest — transformed "a rebellion born in the streets of Boston" into "a countrywide war for independence."

Philbrick, National Book Award winner for In the Heart of the Sea, is known for challenging the mythic versions of celebrated episodes in American history, including the Mayflower voyage and Custer's Last Stand. His approach is especially suited to a battle whose very name is misleading. In the tense weeks following the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, both sides — the British troops occupying Boston and the New England militiamen who were surrounding the city, holding it under siege —weighed their next moves. Hearing that the British were planning to take Dorchester Heights and Bunker Hill, the Patriots set out to preempt them by fortifying Bunker Hill themselves. For reasons that remain unclear to this day, they instead constructed their redoubt on nearby Breed's Hill, which became the eventual site of the conflagration. Because of the geography of Breed's Hill, Philbrick explains, "instead of a defensive position, this was an unmistakable act of defiance," one that "invited a forceful response from the British army." Though the Patriots were outnumbered and dangerously low on gunpowder, they inflicted major casualties on the British before retreating.

Philbrick complicates the version of events you might have learned in elementary school with sympathetic portrayals of British commander Howe and his predecessor Thomas Gage, both of whom were deeply reluctant to wage war against their countrymen, and with warts-and-all portrayals of the Patriots, who could be thuggish and violent in their suppression of Loyalist sentiment. Furthermore, he centers much of his narrative around the largely forgotten Dr. Joseph Warren, an ambitious, charismatic Boston doctor and Patriot leader who, declaring a desire to be "where wounds were to be made, rather than where they were to be healed," recklessly joined in the fighting, only to be killed at Breed's Hill. Philbrick seems to place some stock in the assessment of Loyalist Peter Oliver, who later remarked that had Warren lived, George Washington would have been "an obscurity." Whether or not that's true, the author establishes that, at the very least, the ambitious and well- loved Warren — the man who sent Paul Revere on his legendary ride to warn the countryside that the British were coming — would have played a major role in ensuing events and would likely be one of our well- known Founding Fathers today.

It is a testament to the author's skills as a researcher and writer that Warren's death has emotional heft. Philbrick is masterful when it comes to selecting rich details to give an epic story a human dimension, whether describing renowned figures like Samuel Adams and John Hancock or anonymous soldiers. He describes a young, recently married brickmaker who donned his wedding suit before heading into the fighting following the British retreat from Concord and Lexington; he told his new wife, "If I die, I will die in my best clothes" — and indeed, he did.

While Bunker Hill is dramatic popular history, Philbrick anchors it in larger political themes. He reminds us that even after the fighting began, many Patriots remained loyal to the British monarch, George III, and saw themselves as struggling not for independence but for the liberty due them as Englishmen — liberty that they did not extend to women, blacks, Native Americans, or Catholics. By late 1775, however, the tone was shifting: the Patriots "were no longer fighting simply to preserve their ancient liberties; they were fighting to create a new nation." What had started out as a conservative movement had taken a radical turn, and when, the following summer, the Declaration of Independence was first read aloud in Boston, it was met with cheers. Of course, the contradictions between the affirmation that "all men are created equal" and the realities of American life would test the nation again and again, long after the battleground in Boston had receded into something like myth.

Barbara Spindel has covered books for Time Out New York, Newsweek.com, Details, andSpin. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies.

Reviewer: Barbara Spindel

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611761658
  • Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Sales rank: 780,964
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Nathaniel Philbrick

Nathaniel Philbrick grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and earned a BA in English from Brown University and an MA in America Literature from Duke University, where he was a James B. Duke Fellow. He was Brown University’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978, the same year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI. After working as an editor at Sailing World magazine, he wrote and edited several books about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor, Second Wind, and Yaahting: A Parody.  
In 1986, Philbrick moved to Nantucket with his wife Melissa and their two children. In 1994, he published his first book about the island’s history, Away Off Shore, followed by a study of the Nantucket’s native legacy, Abram’s Eyes. He was the founding director of Nantucket’s Egan Maritime Institute and is still a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association. 

In 2000, Philbrick published the New York Times bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The book is the basis of the forthcoming Warner Bros. motion picture “Heart of the Sea,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Benjamin Walker, Ben Wishaw, and Tom Holland, which is scheduled for release in March, 2015. The book also inspired a 2001 Dateline special on NBC as well as the 2010 two-hour PBS American Experience film “Into the Deep” by Ric Burns.
His next book was Sea of Glory, published in 2003, which won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and the Albion-Monroe Award from the National Maritime Historical Society. The New York Times Bestseller Mayflower was a finalist for both the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, won the Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction, and was named one the ten Best Books of 2006 by the New York Times Book Review. Mayflower is currently in development as a limited series on FX.
In 2010, he published the New York Times bestseller The Last Stand, which was named a New York Times Notable book, a 2010 Montana Book Award Honor Book, and a 2011 ALA Notable Book. Philbrick was an on-camera consultant to the two-hour PBS American Experience film “Custer’s Last Stand” by Stephen Ives. The book is currently being adapted for a ten-hour, multi-part television series. The audio book for Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick? (2011) made the ALA's Listen List in 2012 and was a finalist for the New England Society Book Award.
Philbrick’s latest New York Times bestseller, Bunker Hill:  A City, a Siege, a Revolution, was published in 2013 and was awarded both the 2013 New England Book Award for Non-Fiction and the 2014 New England Society Book Award. Bunker Hill won the 2014 book award from the Society of Colonial Wars, and has been optioned by Warner Bros. for feature film adaptation with Ben Affleck attached to direct.
Philbrick has also received the Byrne Waterman Award from the Kendall Whaling Museum, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for distinguished service from the USS Constitution Museum, the Nathaniel Bowditch Award from the American Merchant Marine Museum, the William Bradford Award from the Pilgrim Society, and the Boston History Award from the Bostonian Society. He was named the 2011 Cushing Orator by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and has an honorary doctorate from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he delivered the commencement address in 2009.
Philbrick’s writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. He has appeared on the Today Show, the Morning Show, Dateline, PBS’s American Experience, C-SPAN, and NPR. He and his wife still live on Nantucket.


Champion sailboat racer Nathaniel Philbrick is one of the premier authorities on New England's Nantucket Island, and an all around aficionado of maritime activities. Ever since he published his first book, a short, humorous take on sailing titled The Passionate Sailor, Philbrick has been sharing that passion with readers. Whether exploring his beloved Nantucket or tracing tragedies and triumphs on the open sea throughout history, Philbrick is the writer of some of the most illuminating and harrowing histories to come sailing across bookshelves in the past decade.

While Philbrick broke into publishing with the lighthearted The Passionate Sailor, he truly established his role as a chronicler of Nantucket—the one-time whaling capital of the world—with his second book, Away Off Shore. Instead of focusing on the colorfully quaint legends that hardly scrape the surface of Nantucket's rich history, Philbrick chose to take a more sober look at the island and how it rose to success. He brought that same objectivity to subsequent books such as Abram's Eyes, which delves into the vast Native American population of Nantucket, separating folklore from historical evidence, and his breakthrough In the Heart of the Sea. Here, Philbrick takes a fascinating look at the legendary sinking of the Essex, a tale that would form the backbone of Herman Melville's classic Moby Dick. If anything, the true story of a wayward ship's encounter with a giant whale is even more terrifying and gripping than anything in Melville's imagination. In the Heart of the Sea is at its core a tragedy rife with painful ironies, fatal decisions, cannibalism, and a final encounter with a furious sperm whale.

The key to this National Book Award winner is that it is told with all the flair and suspense of any fictional story. "What I really like is narrative-driven non-fiction," Philbrick explained to Barnes & Noble.com. "A story is important for anyone to engage with what happened in the past." Just as Philbrick used this tactic to relate the tragedy of the Essex, he used it to tell of the triumphant U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838 in Sea of Glory. No less engaging than its predecessor, Sea of Glory is almost like the yang to the shadowy yin of In the Heart of the Sea, gloriously recounting a grander ocean expedition than that of Lewis and Clark, a quest to map the entire Pacific Ocean that would lead to the discovery of Antarctica.

Philbrick's next book retells a story with which most American schoolchildren are familiar but only through a filter of benign Thanksgiving pageants. The story of the pilgrim's journey to Plymouth Rock told in Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War is quite a different tale. Philbrick was not exactly burning to revisit this well-traveled chapter in history, saying of the Mayflower's voyage, "what could be more boring?" However, once he peeled away the holiday wrapping, he discovered a dark web of violence, starvation, illness, death, and war to rival the tragedy of In the Heart of the Sea. It is as if the pilgrim and Indian's story, as well as their true nature, is being revealed for the very first time, with provocative depictions of a bloody-thirsty Miles Standish and a duplicitous Squanto.

The Library Journal boldly declared that Mayflower was "clearly one of the year's best books" of 2006, and it is certainly one of the most riveting, a historical work that reads like great fiction written by a master at the peak of his abilities.

Good To Know

When Philbrick was a young boy, his father, a professor of English literature with a focus on Maritime fiction, would tell him about the Essex's tragic sea voyage as a sort of grim bedtime story.

Nathaniel Philbrick served as a consultant on USA television's 1998 adaptation of Moby Dick starring Patrick Stewart.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Nat Philbrick
    2. Hometown:
      Nantucket, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 11, 1956
    2. Place of Birth:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Education:
      B.A., Brown University, 1978; M.A., Duke University
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Preface: The Decisive Day

On a hot, almost windless afternoon in June, a seven-year-old boy stood beside his mother and looked out across the green islands of Boston Harbor. To the northwest, sheets of fire and smoke rose from the base of a distant hill. Even though the fighting was at least ten miles away, the concussion of the great guns burst like bubbles across his tear-streaked face.

At that moment, John Adams, the boy’s father, was more than three hundred miles to the south at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Years later, the elder Adams claimed that the American Revolution had started not with the Boston Massacre, or the Tea Party, or the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord and all the rest, but had been “effected before the war commenced . . . in the minds and hearts of the people.” For his son, however, the “decisive day” (a phrase used by the boy’s mother, Abigail) was June 17, 1775.

Seventy-one years after that day, in the jittery script of an old man, John Quincy Adams described the terrifying afternoon when he and his mother watched the battle from a hill beside their home in Braintree: “I saw with my own eyes those fires, and heard Britannia’s thunders in the Battle of Bunker’s hill and witnessed the tears of my mother and mingled with them my own.” They feared, he recounted, that the British troops might at any moment march out of Boston and “butcher them in cold blood” or take them as hostages and drag them back into the besieged city. But what he remembered most about the battle was the hopeless sense of sorrow that he and his mother felt when they learned that their family physician, Dr. Joseph Warren, had been killed.

Warren had saved John Quincy Adams’s badly fractured forefinger from amputation, and the death of this “beloved physician” was a terrible blow to a boy whose father’s mounting responsibilities required that he spend months away from home. Even after John Quincy Adams had grown into adulthood and become a public figure, he refused to attend all anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Joseph Warren, just thirty-four at the time of his death, had been much more than a beloved doctor to a seven-year-old boy. Over the course of the two critical months between the outbreak of hostilities at Lexington Green and the Battle of Bunker Hill, he became the most influential patriot leader in the province of Massachusetts. As a member of the Committee of Safety, he had been the man who ordered Paul Revere to alert the countryside that British soldiers were headed to Concord; as president of the Provincial Congress, he had overseen the creation of an army even as he waged a propaganda campaign to convince both the American and British people that Massachusetts was fighting for its survival in a purely defensive war. While his more famous compatriots John Adams, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams were in Philadelphia at the Second Continental Congress, Warren was orchestrating the on-the-ground reality of a revolution.

Warren had only recently emerged from the shadow of his mentor Samuel Adams when he found himself at the head of the revolutionary movement in Massachusetts, but his presence (and absence) were immediately felt. When George Washington assumed command of the provincial army gathered outside Boston just two and a half weeks after the Battle of Bunker Hill, he was forced to contend with the confusion and despair that followed Warren’s death. Washington’s ability to gain the confidence of a suspicious, stubborn, and parochial assemblage of New England militiamen marked the advent of a very different kind of leadership. Warren had passionately, often impulsively, tried to control the accelerating cataclysm. Washington would need to master the situation deliberately and—above all—firmly. Thus, the Battle of Bunker Hill is the critical turning point in the story of how a rebellion born in the streets of Boston became a countrywide war for independence.

This is also the story of two British generals. The first, Thomas Gage, was saddled with the impossible task of implementing his government’s unnecessarily punitive response to the Boston Tea Party in December 1773. Gage had a scrupulous respect for the law and was therefore ill equipped to subdue a people who were perfectly willing to take that law into their own hands. When fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord, militiamen from across the region descended upon the British stationed at Boston. Armed New Englanders soon cut off the land approaches to Boston. Ironically, the former center of American resistance found itself gripped by an American siege. By the time General William Howe replaced Gage as the British commander in chief, he had determined that New York, not Boston, was where he must resume the fight. It was left to Washington to hasten the departure of Howe and his army. The evacuation of the British in March 1776 signaled the beginning of an eight-year war that produced a new nation. But it also marked the end of an era that had started back in 1630 with the founding of the Puritan settlement called Boston. This is the story of how a revolution changed that 146-year-old community—of what was lost and what was gained when 150 vessels filled with British soldiers and American loyalists sailed from Boston Harbor for the last time.

Over the more than two centuries since the Revolution, Boston has undergone immense physical change. Most of the city’s once-defining hills have been erased from the landscape while the marshes and mudflats that surrounded Boston have been filled in to eliminate almost all traces of the original waterfront. But hints of the vanished town remain. Several meetinghouses and churches from the colonial era are still standing, along with a smattering of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century houses. Looking southeast from the balcony of the Old State House, you can see how the spine of what was once called King Street connects this historic seat of government, originally known as the Town House, to Long Wharf, an equally historic commercial center that still reaches out into the harbor.

For the last three years I have been exploring these places, trying to get a fix on the long-lost topography that is essential to understanding how Boston’s former residents interacted. Boston in the 1770s was a land-connected island with a population of about fifteen thousand, all of whom probably recognized, if not knew, each other. Being myself a resident of an island with a year-round population very close in size to provincial Boston’s, I have some familiarity with how petty feuds, family alliances, professional jealousies, and bonds of friendship can transform a local controversy into a supercharged outpouring of communal angst. The issues are real enough, but why we find ourselves on one side or the other of those issues is often unclear even to us. Things just happen in a way that has little to do with logic or rationality and everything to do with the mysterious and infinitely complex ways that human beings respond to one another.

In the beginning there were three different colonial groups in Massachusetts. One group was aligned with those who eventually became revolutionaries. For lack of a better word, I will call these people “patriots.” Another group remained faithful to the crown, and they appear herein as “loyalists.” Those in the third and perhaps largest group were not sure where they stood. Part of what makes a revolution such a fascinating subject to study is the arrival of the moment when neutrality is no longer an option. Like it or not, a person has to choose.

It was not a simple case of picking right from wrong. Hindsight has shown that, contrary to what the patriots insisted, Britain had not launched a preconceived effort to enslave her colonies. Compared with other outposts of empire, the American colonists were exceedingly well off. It’s been estimated that they were some of the most prosperous, least-taxed people in the Western world. And yet there was more to the patriots’ overheated claims about oppression than the eighteenth-century equivalent of a conspiracy theory. The hyperbole and hysteria that so mystified the loyalists had wellsprings that were both ancient and strikingly immediate. For patriots and loyalists alike, this was personal.

Because a revolution gave birth to our nation, Americans have a tendency to exalt the concept of a popular uprising. We want the whole world to be caught in a blaze of liberating upheaval (with appropriately democratic results) because that was what worked so well for us. If Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, the guidebook that has become a kind of bible among twenty-first- century revolutionaries in the Middle East and beyond, is any indication, the mechanics of overthrowing a regime are essentially the same today as they were in the eighteenth century. And yet, given our tendency to focus on the Founding Fathers who were at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia when all of this was unfolding in and around Boston, most of us know surprisingly little about how the patriots of Massachusetts pulled it off.

In the pages that follow, I hope to provide an intimate account of how over the course of just eighteen months a revolution transformed a city and the towns that surrounded it, and how that transformation influenced what eventually became the Unites States of America. This is the story of two charismatic and forceful leaders (one from Massachusetts, the other from Virginia), but it is also the story of two ministers (one a subtle, even Machiavellian, patriot, the other a punster and a loyalist); of a poet, patriot, and caregiver to four orphaned children; of a wealthy merchant who wanted to be everybody’s friend; of a conniving traitor whose girlfriend betrayed him; of a sea captain from Marblehead who became America’s first naval hero; of a bookseller with a permanently mangled hand who after a 300-mile trek through the wilderness helped to force the evacuation of the British; and of many others. In the end, the city of Boston is the true hero of this story. Whether its inhabitants came to view the Revolution as an opportunity or as a catastrophe, they all found themselves in the midst of a survival tale when on December 16, 1773, three shiploads of tea were dumped in Boston Harbor.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 46 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 28, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    "...both sides began a desperate rush for gunpowder."

    "...both sides began a desperate rush for gunpowder."

    Philbrick knows how to inhabit and interpret a battle scene. From earlier books like The Last Stand and now with Bunker Hill, Philbrick allows us to imagine in detail the layout, action, and tension in a battlefield exploding with ordnance. Because we know more about the personalities of those men involved in the battle, have letters from survivors and rooftop observers, and battle reports of the period, we can interpret to some extent how the battle for Bunker Hill must have developed and played out. It was grim. It was bloody. The provincials had very little gunpowder but buckets of bravado.

    The British took Bunker Hill that day, but the loss did nothing more than whet the appetite of the provincials for the freedom they craved. Paradoxically, it crushed the spirit of the British generals and spurred the leadership and fighting men of the colonies to an even greater resolve to isolate and eventually push the British out of Boston.

    This latest addition to Philbrick’s oeuvre gives us much more than news about a single battle. We get a glimpse of greater Boston in a conscribed period of time beginning 1775 and ending 1776. We learn details about the land, the weather, the ethos, the men and women living in Boston which aid in understanding the constraints and choices facing our earliest countrymen. We learn of Lexington and Concord and the heartbreaking admission by a provincial soldier found to have hacked a British regular to death with an axe:, “he simply did what he thought was expected of a soldier in the midst of battle.”

    Several things stand out from Philbrick’s account which makes for a rich and rewarding addition to our understanding of the period. A fascinating new series of maps created for the book and dated 2013 by Jeffrey L. Ward are a revelation. Boston of today bears almost no resemblance to the Boston of 1775-76 when Boston city itself was practically an island reachable only by water or by a very narrow neck of land reaching into Roxbury. Ward’s maps follow the scenes of Philbrick’s history closely and add immeasurably to our grasp on the action.

    The other thing that stands out is how little fighting actually took place before the colonies declared independence in the summer of 1776. Hostilities continued afterwards, but “the Battle of Bunker Hill…[proved] to be the bloodiest engagement of the eight years of fighting that followed.” The provincials lost the Battle of Bunker Hill and sustained heavy casualties, but they appeared to come away from that time with a sense of their own power, and with determination.

    Best of all may be the portraits drawn of James Warren, kinetic man-about-town, physician, politician, and leader who rose from his sickbed to participate (and die) in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and George Washington, gentleman general, who came up to Boston afterward to lay out the Siege of Boston. Washington succeeded in pushing the British from Boston with almost no conflict. He had prepared so well in surrounding the city, he was actually disappointed he did not need to put his plan into action.
    ”Two days after the evacuation, the British saw fit to destroy the fortifications at the Castle with a spectacular series of explosions. The resulting fire raged throughout the night with such an intensity that a lieutenant from Connecticut discovered that even though he was several miles away he was able to read a letter from his wife by the light of the burning fortress. The fate of the Castle served as a fresh reminder of the devastation that had been avoided through the occupation of Dorchester Heights. Washington, however, continued ‘lamenting the disappointment’ of not having been able to implement what he described in a letter to a friend in Virginia as his ‘premeditated plan’ to attack Boston, ‘as we were prepared for them at all points.’”

    Philbrick is at his most eloquent in his chapter entitled “The Fiercest Man,” in which he describes George Washington. One of my deepest impressions from this book comes from this chapter, where Washington is rendered human. He was a large man, physically gifted and well-proportioned, who looked well on a horse: “There is not a king in Europe that would not look like a valet de chamber by his side.” He appeared to listen and accommodate another point of view from his own while managing, in the end, to carry his own.

    When Washington learned that the provincials were essentially without gunpowder, he was struck silent. “Could I have forseen what I have, and am about to experience, no consideration upon earth should have induced me to accept this command.”

    The book has 32 color plates, including Charles Willson Peale’s standing portrait of Washington with his hand on a gun barrel, and 30 black and white reproductions that allow us to put faces to names. This is a delectable, detailed history, adding to our store of knowledge, and a modern one: there is some discussion of attractive women, married or not, whom Warren and Washington were allegedly interested in. I assert, whether or not we think these details realistic, true, or relevant, they make these men more accessible to us, and we begin to wish we had more remaining clues about the lives of all these forbears so as to refute or confirm these theories.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2013

    Bunker Hill

    I thought that Bunker Hill was a very interesting book because it tells alot about history. The vocabulary in the book was very good which made the book even better. This is a very educational book about the Revolutionary War and the events that lend up to it.
    This book is mostly about the battle of Bunker Hill, which really didn't take place at Bunker Hill, not to spoil anything. There are other thing and places, but like what I said before the book mostly takes place at the battle.
    I think everyone should buy this book.

    8 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2013

    Another Philbrick Winner!

    A key period in US history brought wonderfully to life with cogent overviews and individual observations. History can indeed be riveting, amusing and awe inspiring. The piece about George Washington was inspired. Highly recommended.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 15, 2013

    HISTORICAL ACCOUNT WORTH READING! Nathaniel Philbrick creates a

    Nathaniel Philbrick creates a very vivid picture as he recounts the explosive and unpredictable days before the American Revelution and its eventual outbreak. This historical account reads like a novel as it reveals the unsettled atomosphere of the times and the varied sentiment of those living through such a tumultous period. The reader encounters a diversity of opinions and the wrenching choices made by some as the people of Boston, Massachusetts and the other colonial areas committed to life altering decisions based on their support of the revolutionary cause or their loyalty to the British Monarchy. When I consider the early days of America, I am convinced more than ever that God truly guided the circumstances to bring about the birth of our remarkable country! I highly recommend this work to any who seek to have a better understanding of how our country evolved into a nation.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2013

    History Re-Explained

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It had always seemed that our forefathers rose up as one and, with unanimous purpose, won their freedom. In reality, they were much less focused and certainly independence was not a unanimous decision.
    This book really put the New England portion of our revolution in perspective, and did it so backed up by historical facts.
    A very good read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Well written, very interesting, more details than I've read befo

    Well written, very interesting, more details than I've read before but the the use of 'African American" is out of place for the period of time especially considering that there were no "Americans" yet. Slave, freed slave or negro would have blended in much better. Still a good read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 6, 2015

    more from this reviewer

    Pretty enjoyable read, though the actual Battle of Bunker Hill (

    Pretty enjoyable read, though the actual Battle of Bunker Hill (OK, Breeds Hill) is pretty short. It is really the story of Boston in 1775 and early 1776, and the people involved. It was refreshing to read some of the stories of the "lesser known" Patriots from the time-- Joseph Warren, John Hancock, Israel Putnam. It's pretty evenhanded giving information and stories about the Loyalist side of things too, which I would expect in a history book written in today's work. The story of the beginning of the American Revolution were not black and white. There were plenty of shades of grey. I'll knock off one star because the Battles of Lexington and Concord actually take up more of the book than the battle of the book's title.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 30, 2014

    This should be required reading for everyone

    I felt as if I was back in colonial Boston. The brutality of war was made very real, the passion of the colonists for "freedom" both political and economical was jumping from each page.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2014

    Well written scholarly history

    This book covers much more than Bunker Hill and traces back to the actions that started the militant side of the American Revolution. The contributions of Hancock and S Adams are described and a little known hero Joseph Warren detailed. G. Washington comes in later and seems to get too much credit for lifting the siege at Boston. He wanted a conclusive battle but realized a war of attrition favored the Americans. The patriots were led by amateurs with more zeal than experience and poorly equipped but the British didn't want to be there and didn't believe their army could be bested by a ragtag bunch. The first commanders thought they could cow the Americans back into submission simply by showing up. This is a good book for those interested in the early military days of the American revolution. It was a messy and a far from certain outcome. I enjoyed this book and the learning the history it reported.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2013

    It was an interesting book by Mr. Philbrick. WHAT I DID NOT LIKE

    It was an interesting book by Mr. Philbrick.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2013

    Very interesting method to explore history

    I enjoyed this book. Mr Philbrick's style reminds me of Barbara Tuchman is a wonderful historian writer. History is told as a story and the while the 'characters' are real, there is a warmth to them one does not get from a text book or such. I think anyone interested in the topic of Bunker Hill or early American Revolution will enjoy this.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 28, 2013

    A well researched and written book. Very balanced and bring aliv

    A well researched and written book. Very balanced and bring alive the famous and not so famous architects of American Independence. I especially liked how he describes with Washington's taking command how the struggle and Washington's perceptions were changed. A great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2013

    Some new ground broken in this narrative of the early beginnings

    Some new ground broken in this narrative of the early beginnings of the conflict. Reads like a text book at times but is worth the time in its character development of lesser known figures that played significant roles.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2013


    As usual Philbrick brings Historical Figures to life such as British General Howe, Margaret Gage,General Gage's beautiful mysterious American Wife,long thought to be an American spy. Philbrick debunks that old myth. Dr. Joseph Warren was an important Patriot Leader who is denied his rightful place in the Pantheon because his life was tragically cut short at Bunker Hill. Description of the sainted Washington very balanced pointing out that he would of made a disastrously premature attack on Boston if not dissuaded by his war council. Philbrick never disappoints.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 21, 2013

    more from this reviewer


    Well written story of the battle and events surrounding the beginnings of the revolutionary war.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2015

    Portal ✧

    O.o Wow.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2015

    D&real<_>eam C&image<_>ty | A Fantasy Story | Prologue | &fnof¤Я⒢&epsilon 佌

    1.1 <br> Clayton <br> You never seem to notice the small details when you're being chased like heck by a heck of a dragon in a heck of a place. <br> The dragon roared overhead as I continued running like a maniac. <br> My heart was in my mouth. <br> The dragon swooped down and knocked me in the gut. <br> I yelped and dropped to the ground with the force of probably about twenty bulldozers. <br> I don't remember anything else, but the sight of the dragon swooping down for a killing blow. <br> <br> 1.2 <br> Summer <br> Blood drizzled from my mouth as I gripped the coarse handle of my sword shakily. <br> The boy in the cloak smirked hellishly at me as he unsheathed his sword. <br> I took the chance and bolted towards him. I embedded my sword in his chest right as he was ready to attack. <br> He coughed up blood for a moment before dropping to he ground. <br> His hood had fallen off. I walked over to him, curious. <br> My heart skipped a beat. <br> It was Clint. <br> <br> 1.3 <br> Sierra <br> Keep your head down, don't look anyone directly in the eyes. They can see the difference. <br> Don't die. <br> The rain battered against the window. I pulled on my hood and stepped out the front door. The sidewalk and street was practically empty; only about three people, excluding me, were on the sidewalk. <br> A boy bumped into me. I fell to the asphalt and my hood fell off. <br> He was about to help me up, when..."You." He glared. <br> <br> Three ppsitive comments and I continue! ~&#20300

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2014


    Climbs a tree and silently and invisably waited for a bird to perch on the branch. 2 birds perched on the branch right next to him so he pounced and killed each of them and found a hole in the tree and he put them in there and hid in a bagder borrow because he heard the bagder coming back. When the bagder came in he pounced on its back and wrestled it finaly he tired it out and killed it with one hard and deep bite to the neck. He draged it out and draged it to the tree where the birds were he picked the birds up with his tail and draged the bagder and birds back to result 1

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2013

    wow! what I learned!

    An excellent documentation of the reasons for the revolution and the people involved in the movement for freedom. Excellent history down to the farmers who left their plows to defend Bunker Hill. Fascinating history of the many mistakes made by Americans and British. A must read to understand our beginnings!

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  • Posted August 15, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    An interesting history of late colonial New England, Boston in p

    An interesting history of late colonial New England, Boston in particular and the early stages of the Revolution. Also very interesting to read the author's views of the eraly command actions of George Washington, whom he does not fawn over.

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