John (William) Jakes Book World—The Washington Post - Essay

Book World—The Washington Post

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Before John Jakes is finished [with The American Bicentennial Series], he will have summed up the whole of America's history, from the Intolerable Acts to Watergate, in what looks to be eight volumes….

Jakes, a veteran of popular fiction, says the research is what takes time….

His efforts are well rewarded. The series … has been an outrageous success. The first couple of volumes, The Bastard and The Rebels … deal with the adventures of Philip Kent in the American Revolution…. The Seekers and The Furies (volumes three and four) follow the lives of Philip Kent's heirs as they conquer the Northwest Territory, fight in the war of 1812 and then work their way west in the tumultuous days of Dred Scott, bleeding Kansas, and the fight to free Texas….

As to the merits of the books themselves, the prose is plain, but practical; the history (except for a minor manipulation of chronology) is as accurate as Jakes can make it and seems to interest all sorts of people—from housewives to convicts to assembly-line workers—in some fairly obscure aspects of America's past. Of course, as one might expect, there's a serious temptation to skim the historical explication when there's a deflowering, some dalliance, or intrepid derring-do to be found only a few pages farther on.

A review of "The American Bicentennial Series," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1976, The Washington Post), March 7, 1976, p. F10.