In Allen, young adults have an ideal hero—a man of action, independence, and integrity—and most of the information that Holbrook selected for this biography is intended to show these traits. As the book begins, Holbrook suggests that “Ethan Allen was to live a life filled with storms. He was to be a man given to violent actions and language.” He then points out that the gigantic Allen was also courageous and true. There is no doubt of Holbrook’s admiration for Allen, but he also describes some of Allen’s antics and tactics that were crude and cruel in order to make the hero believable.
Holbrook adequately covers the public highlights of Allen’s life and treats his involvement in fledgling Vermont’s politics extensively. He depicts life in the Allen household when Ethan was young but says little of Allen as a husband and father, perhaps because young readers are less interested in these roles.
The biography’s pace picks up when Allen moves to the area of New Hampshire that became Vermont. This section was bought and settled by families from Connecticut at the same time that New Yorkers were buying the land. “Always a man of quick action,” Allen would not capitulate to the “Yorkers.” He tells the settlers, “Hang the courts! fight—unless you are sheep.” Allen then gathered his “mob” of Green Mountain Boys to fight the Yorkers and later the British. Against both opponents, Allen proved fearless and...
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It was natural for Holbrook, a native Vermonter, to turn to his state’s hero for the subject of a biography. In 1940, he wrote Ethan Allen, a 283-page book for adults. Significantly shortened, America’s Ethan Allen is an adaptation of that work designed for young adults. Holbrook eliminated Allen’s drinking and swearing but did retain enough stories of Allen’s foolish, rowdy, often sordid behavior to make his subject a multifaceted, believable individual. The earlier work was revised in a 1958 edition, and the documentation lacking in the juvenile biography can be found in the other title.
While Allen’s actions and bravado have produced many legends about him, Holbrook’s research lends his book a more authentic ring. His picture of an imperfect, robust frontiersman-soldier gives a different slant to the history of this period and is sure to appeal to young adults. The book brings colonial America and the figure of Ethan Allen to life for its readers. Its hero, his confidence in himself, and his faith in his country are exciting and entertaining. With this blend of action, legends, and idealism, America’s Ethan Allen should inspire patriotism in students and adults alike.