Heroes of the American Revolution appeals to readers of all ages. Given its brevity, this collective biography is admirably accurate and comprehensive. Without condescension, Davis ably refines sophisticated subjects, rendering them comprehensible to young adults. Because he is knowledgeable, his themes are handled with precision and economy. For example, by first quoting George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights and then juxtaposing the same sentiments as written by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, Davis clarifies the superiority of Jefferson’s document. Readers are shown the awkwardness of Mason’s prose, which belabors the Lockean contract system of government, while Jefferson’s talents are dramatized by his almost lyrical introduction to the Declaration, serving as Davis’ reminder about the value of literary expression. Because of such techniques, Davis’ book is also appropriate for adults.
Throughout, Davis’ aim is to present his heroes not as “supermen or saints or marble statues,” but as “men of weaknesses as well as strength, men of doubts as well as courage.” In this goal, he has succeeded splendidly. Skillful in his analyses of individual characters, Davis’ subjects emerge as multidimensional figures. Sensibly relying upon the acute observations of his heroes’ contemporaries, such as John and Abigail Adams, his characters come alive. Of John Paul Jones, for example, the astute Abigail Adams claimed that, because of his physical attributes, she would “sooner think of wrapping him up in cotton wool, and putting him in my...
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Published in 1971, Davis’ collective biography was written for Americans “growing up in a nation still stirred by radical ideas which had their birth two centuries ago.” Although the author’s motivation in writing this book may have been influenced by the turbulent 1960’s, his work is not dated. Well crafted, wisely and handsomely illustrated, and based on sound scholarship, it furnishes a fine overview of these revolutionaries’ accomplishments and of the human capacities evoked by the American Revolution. Useful as background preparation for term papers or for general reading, these engaging biographies may also inspire the student to explore other, lengthier biographies of these personalities. Teachers may also confidently use Davis as a supplement to their classroom discussions because, while drafting highly positive portraits of these figures, Davis has neither fictionalized nor made extravagant claims for his heroes. The young reader instead is left with a satisfyingly comprehensive description of their lives and achievements.
The American fascination with the revolutionary war has never diminished and is unlikely to do so. Appearing in timely fashion, during the decade of the bicentennial, Heroes of the American Revolution was quickly adopted by public and school libraries and remains a standard work. While there are several biographies of revolutionary leaders, few authors accomplish their task as efficiently or as admirably as Davis does.