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Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution Paperback – 8 May 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (8 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 085750083X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857500830
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 3.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 154,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A notable merit of his account of the birth of the American revolution is its fairmindedness . . . readable and sensible." (Max Hastings SUNDAY TIMES)

"Vivid, realistic and sometimes shocking . . . [character] is certainly the animating spirit of this fine narrative history and, in a sprawling, vibrant cast, the character that emerges most forcefully is that of the city of Boston itself: tumultuous, vigorous and fascinating." (Ben McIntyre THE TIMES)

"Admirably even-handed . . . this perceptive account." (Andrew Roberts MAIL ON SUNDAY)

"Brilliantly told. Philbrick is a master narrator who has deployed every ounce of his considerable skill . . . to find the lifeblood of early America" (THE TIMES)

"This is popular history at its best: a taut narrative with a novelist’s touch, grounded in careful research." (MIAMI HERALD)

Book Description

Sunday Times bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea and The Last Stand Nathaniel Philbrick turns to the visceral and dramatic beginnings of one of the most significant episodes in American and British history: the American Revolution.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 July 2013
Format: Hardcover
The historical details are by now well-known but many people do not as yet appreciate the full significance of what is generally referred to as "the Battle of Bunker Hill" on June 17, 1775. Actually, most of it was waged on and around nearby Breed's Hill, during the Siege of Boston about a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed. However, Bunker Hill was the original military objective of both colonial and British troops. What we have in Nathaniel Philbrick's bestselling book is a vivid, compelling account of events that -- more than the so-called "Boston Tea Party" -- probably set the thirteen colonies on an irrevocable course.

Leaders of the colonial forces besieging Boston learned that British troops would be sent out from the city to occupy the unoccupied hills surrounding it. In response, 1,200 colonial troops under the command of William Prescott stealthily occupied Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill, dug in on Breed's Hill, and built lightly fortified lines across most of the Charlestown Peninsula.

When the British learned of these initiatives the next day, they mounted an attack. After two unsuccessful assaults with significant casualties on the colonial lines, the British finally captured the key positions. Under the leadership of a Physician, Joseph Warren, who died during the battle, the colonials had run out of ammunition and retreated to Cambridge over Bunker Hill, suffering their most significant losses there.

Although technically it was a victory for the British, they suffered heavy losses: more than 800 wounded and 226 killed, including many officers. The battle can be viewed as a Pyrrhic victory in that the British lost more than they gained. The siege continued.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Bolt on 23 April 2014
Format: Paperback
This book stands out as one of the best books I have read to date on revolutionary Boston. It is both academically brilliant and prosaic in its delivery. The facts are laid clearly and logically, but flow freely in this narrative that makes it a pleasure to read and hard to put down.

The events described are not just the battle of Bunker Hill, but also a great look at the seedy town of Boston during this period of history, as well as a great look at the characters, both British Tories and American Patriots up to and through the events that culminated with this epic battle.

Factual, unbiased and a pleasure to read!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 399 reviews
106 of 115 people found the following review helpful
Masterful and Vivid History 30 April 2013
By Peter Harris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
(via advanced review copy)

Have you ever heard of Dr. Joseph Warren? If you're not a revolutionary war buff, you're to be forgiven if you haven't (at least I hope so, since I'd never heard of him). Warren, a popular doctor and president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, is the unsung hero of the American Revolution who quite possibly may have been the revolution's top general and perhaps our first president had he not been shot on Bunker Hill (well technically Breed's Hill, which we learn, is where the battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought), while trying to rally the troops. The fleshing out of Dr. Warren's life and his stomping grounds in and around Boston, are Nathan Philbrick's domain in Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution.

Philbrick has the gift of great historians and writers; that is the ability to see the much chronicled with a depth and creativity that helps us see it with fresh eyes too. David McCullough's John Adams immediately comes to mind, as does Ron Chernow's tour de force biography of George Washington. Nathan Philbrick has done that here, except in this case, the main protagonist is Boston--at the time, the city "known for its love of liberty, its piety, and its prostitutes." Though soon and forever thereafter, it would be known for the bravery of its beleaguered and besieged citizens. Given the recent marathon bombing, the timing of this book's release is a bit eerie.

In Bunker Hill, Philbrick has done a powerful if sometimes painful to read job of recreating vivid battle scenes in and around Boston. What makes this much more than just a lesson in military geography is his well-crafted sense of storytelling and his finely tuned sensitivity to the personal drives behind the individuals making history through war and politics. As he writes, what made America unique at the time was "the absence of a deeply-rooted aristocracy meant that ambition had replaced deference as the way to get ahead." There are a cast of historical personages who come alive in Philbrick's capable hands; among them the already mentioned Warren, Sam and John Adams, British generals Thomas Gage and William Howe.

Like any masterful telling of history, the lessons and insights in these pages will resonate with leadership insights for our times as well.
47 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Boston Strong: 1775 1 May 2013
By The Ginger Man - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bunker Hill is a colorful and exacting history of the Battle for Boston and the events leading to it. Philbrick's strength is in his presentation of a driving, detailed narrative. It focuses on the questions of who, what and when albeit with a bit less emphasis on why.

The Battle of Bunker Hill makes little sense without an understanding of how Boston came to be a city under siege in 1776. The author does a good job in the first half of the book, however, in adding fresh insights to his summary of the events preceding the conflict. In doing so, he gives full credit to the role of Joseph Warren, who perished at Bunker Hill, avoiding the usual historical emphasis on Adams and Hancock. In the weeks ahead of Lexington and Concord, Warren "not only continued his leadership role in the Congress and the Committee of Safety: he would be present in the ranks at virtually every encounter between colonial and British forces." In the two critical months prior to the battles at Lexington Green and Bunker Hill, Warren "became the most influential leader in the province of Massachusetts."

Philbrick is at his best in rendering these encounters in a journalistic style that succeeds in bringing to life scenes that sometimes can seem colorless through the process of so many retellings. Witness his description of the first British volley at Concord Bridge: "Action private Abner Hosmer was shot through the face and killed instantly. Captain Isaac Davis, marching in the front row beside Major Buttrick and Lieutenant Colonel Robinson, was hit in the chest, and the musket ball, which may have driven a shirt button through an artery and out his back, opened up a gush of blood that extended at least ten feet behind him drenching David Forbush and Thomas Thorp and covering the stones in front of the North Bridge with a slick of gore." Bunker Hill shows real people acting with overwhelming sacrifice.

On the other hand, the author does not work as hard to analyze the deep-seated, and sometimes conflicting, motivations behind the colonial rebellion. He mentions ambition as a possible source of Joseph Warren's patriotism and the commercial interests that effected Hancock. He also suggests that "a love of democratic ideals" is not the "reality of the revolutionary movement" at least for the "country people" who made up the militias. Philbrick submits that "the Revolution, if it was to succeed, would do so not because the patriots had right on their side but because they - rather than Gage and the loyalists - had the power to intimidate those around them into doing what they wanted" by pronouncing resistors as Enemies of Liberty.

Bunker Hill, unlike many books about the early days of the revolution, credits surrounding towns as the true hotbed of resistance. Even before Lexington and Concord, says Philbrick, "the country people outside the city were the ones now leading the resistance movement." And while Joseph Ellis points out in Revolutionary Summer the advantage accruing to British troops due to their 7 years average service in the field, Philbrick notes that the army had not fought in 12 years and that many British troops in New England had never fought before. He contrasts this to colonial troops, two inches taller than their English counterparts on average, who used their guns as part of their daily lives on the frontier.

Publication of this book is well-timed given recent events because, as Philbrick states in his Preface, "the city of Boston is the true hero of this story." Bunker Hill tells the powerful story a revolution in thought and action that transformed the Massachusetts colony in 18 months. It also suggests how that transformation influenced what would become the United States.
46 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Wonderfully written American history. 1 May 2013
By Robert Busko - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Nathaniel Philbrick continues to publish intelligent history that is accurate and written for a general readership. His latest effort, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution continues such a wonderful record that includes Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War as well as The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. All clearly demonstrate the author's talent for research and demonstrate a huge curiosity.

It is also refreshing that, in addition to the cast of characters we've come to love and respect in the American Revolution such as George Washington, John and Sam Adams, and Paul Revere, that we're introduced to men such as Dr. Joseph Warren, who was perhaps one of the most significant individuals in Massachusetts and Boston leading up to and during the Battle of Bunker Hill (really Breeds Hill). He was killed during the battle and might have been a major mover in the years to come. One of Philbrick's characteristics is his workman like manner in delivering facts such as Dr. Warren to the reader. However, this does not mean his prose is drab or not interesting. In fact he is one of the more talented authors writing in the history genres presently.

It is fair to say that the American Revolution was the result of a movement of resistance to British unfairness and harsh treatment, both on the American continent and also in London. Much of the population of Massachusetts never really felt that full-scale revolt would happen, until it actually did. It should be pointed out that while Philbrick's book deals almost exclusively with the Boston area, growing dissatisfaction was present in other colonial centers, but it was the spark in Lexington, Concorde and Bunker Hill that finally set the kindling afire.

Since Boston was being occupied by British forces, the colonial forces occupied Bunker and Breeds Hill and this move forced the English to make a move. At battles end, the Americans had lost 114 killed while the British lost more than a thousand. A British victory that General Howe recorded "The success is too dearly bought."

Philbrick's Bunker Hill is American history that, alas, isn't being taught in many American schools. It is for this reason, that it is important that it be read by as many Americans as possible. Grandparents and parents should relate the basic information contained in the book to our children while they can sit on our knees and are willing to listen.

While the entire book is inspiring, the story of the sledges bringing the cannon has to be one of the more interesting stories around the battle.

Nathaniel Philbrick is obviously a highly talented author, but his ability to conduct probing research and then relate that information is a sensible manner is part of his genius.

I highly recommend.

Clear skies and a following sea....
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Philbrick's partly cloudy patriot?! 4 July 2013
By Bob Mackadoo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
First of all, I applaud Nathaniel Philbrick's obvious passion for the historical people, events and movements that have changed the fabric of our nation. It is very hard to motivate Americans to read, never mind read about the events that have influenced and shaped the lives of the present day citizen. Though he runs into the same problem that every writer of popular history runs into, the sacrificing of detail for the superficial, the sensational and the cliche. To be fair, I have enjoyed every one of his books (including this one!) though I don't think he has ever quite captured the intelligence of historical analysis that characterized "In the Heart of the Sea."

"Bunker Hill" is mother's milk to a New Englander, the culmination of the great test of wills between the patriots and the British Parliament, and the event that solidifies Boston and New England as the ideological birthplace of the Revolution. The reader almost gets the feeling that Philbrick bears a little bit of disdain for Boston's patriot past. Great figures, such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock and John Adams, are background players--ideological firebrands, manipulating the emotions of the people of Boston, instead of helping foster the framework for a fledgling American democracy. The star of Philbrick's siege is Joseph Warren; part doctor, part revolutionary, part adulterer; part martyr. Warren is an odd choice, considering Philbrick's disdain for the ideological leaders of the Revolution; why ignore the leadership, but emphasize the first martyr of the Revoluiton?

Philbrick provides a nice introduction leading up to the Bunker Hill; the various Parliamentary actions against the Massachusetts Bay colony, patriot responses to said actions; a graphic description of the customs collector John Malcom and the confrontations between colonists and the British regulars at Lexington and Concord. His description of the actual battle is extremely disappointing, failing to really detail how traumatizing the battle was for the British. One detail Philbrick actually fails to include is the fact that Warren is actually bayoneted several times after his death by enraged regulars and has his head placed on a pike; William Howe is never the same after the battle, which leads him to question both his strategic ability and his army's chances against future colonial armies. It's a great buildup that certainly falls flat. Also, the writer tends to fall back to his aversion of New England's zeal for Revolution, citing Washington's disdain for the colonial soldier and the contrarian culture that predominated the New England militia. It was the fighting spirit of the people of New England that harassed the British for nearly a decade and fueled the dramatic confrontations that would lead to the British abandonment of Boston.

Overall, a good summer read. Those that are not familiar with Boston and the start of the Revolution will find the book interesting. The amateur historian or history buff will find bits and pieces here and there, but nothing too impressive. The flow of Philbrick's story is occasionally interrupted by his assertion that Warren committed adultery and had birthed a child with a much younger woman. I found this disappointing and with no citation or source reference to back this argument .
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Bunker Hill? 2 Jun. 2013
By Gregory Hope - Published on Amazon.com
This book was not quite what I had expected when I saw the title. Philbrick's treatment of the actual engagement at Bunker Hill, actually Breed's Hill, takes up a relatively small portion of the book. The coverage of the Lexington and Concord battles is arguably more extensive. As other reviewers have pointed out the book is largely about Boston and Bostonians, especially Dr. Joseph Warren, during the years leading up to the American Revolution and continues through to the time British forces evacuated the city. The reader will be nearly a third of the way through the book before reaching the green at Lexington. All of this to say that if you are looking primarily for a book of military history this book should not be your first choice. This book, despite its title, is largely a social and political history. As such it is well written as expected from this author.
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