Tuesday, November 26, 2013

King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the American Revolution by Steve Sheinkin, Tim Robinson (Illustrations)

Steve Sheinkin has evolved into such a brilliant writer of narrative nonfiction that when I read his earlier books I'm a bit let down because I am expecting more fictional elements. Which isn't really fair of me as a reader. Even his straightforward nonfiction texts are well-done and interesting. I just don't gobble them up like I have his most recent books. After reading "Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales" graphic novel series, this book helped fill in the blanks as to the timeline of famous people in history giving an excellent overview of the American Revolution and key players in a grisly war.

Historians cannot cover everything. They must pick and choose and many times I find myself thinking that I would like to explore something more in depth that is touched upon in whatever I am reading. Obviously Sheinkin had the same idea because he mentions Benedict Arnold in this book and goes off to write another book solely on him and his traitorous deed. I'd like to know more about King George. I didn't know he was only 22 years old when he became King. I've heard about his madness and didn't know it was from porphyia, an inherited disorder. Sheinkin shows how the stubborn young king made mistakes when dealing with the Americas. He also puts in other crazy facts and details that keep the reader chucking through each page. Take the British official, John Macolm, who tried to collect taxes from the Colonists. He was tarred and feathered and mailed a box to the British government that still had bits of his skin attached to the feathered tar. Gotta love those details. The short chapters make it easy to digest the facts and the famous quotes color the text.

Characters don't take on the shape that they do in Sheinkin's narrative nonfiction and that is what I miss the most when reading his books from almost a decade ago. They are full of interesting facts but he doesn't describe characters in depth as found in more recent books. Don't get me wrong. He does describe colorful figures, but he is covering too many people over too long a time to be conducive to a narrative nonfiction story that follows a few characters. In the back, he elaborates on 22 of the major players in the American Revolution titled, "Whatever Happened to... " That was my shot in the arm.

A strength of the story is that Sheinkin lays out the facts and keeps his bias out of the picture. He mentions the fact that the British thought the Declaration of Independence as hypocritical due to the phrase "all men are created equal" that was written by many men who had slaves. Good point. He also states that many of the British soldiers were young boys who needed money. The text gives a good overall picture of the why's and how's of the war flavored with the bizarre to make for good pacing. For instance, the part on Benjamin Franklin gives funny, ridiculous information about how John Adams and Benjamin Franklin had to share a bed and argued over keeping the window open or closed to showing that Adams didn't understand how Franklin's full social calendar was providing critical support from the French government needed for the Americans to win the war. He mentions African-American's contributions to the war and women doing brave things. A well-rounded, nonjudgmental look at the American Revolution.

4 Smileys

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