Heroes Fit For The Times: My Flag Day Review of The Revolutionary War Novel Rise to Rebellion

Today is Flag Day, the day Americans celebrate their flag, which was officially adopted June 14, 1777. It seemed fitting that, on Flag Day, we review a book that fits that theme. Jeff Shaara’s Rise to Rebellion fits that bill. Published in 2001, Rise to Rebellion is the first of a two-part series┬áset during the American Revolution.

Readers of historical fiction, especially military historical fiction, will likely recognize the Shaara name. It was Michael Shaara who wrote the classic Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels. That book was later the basis of the movie Gettysburg starring Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen, and Jeff Daniels. The Killer Angels was groundbreaking in its brilliant combination of fiction and fact. Michael Shaara died in 1988, but his son Jeff has carried the torch forward, becoming a prolific author of historical fiction novels depicting some of the most violent episodes in America’s military history. The younger Shaara has now written novels set in the Civil War, the Mexican War, the American Revolution, the First World War, the Second World War, and most recently the Korean War. For Flag Day, I felt a look back at Shaara’s Revolutionary War series was most appropriate.

Rise to Rebellion follows several figures from the American Revolution, primarily Benjamin Franklin, John and Abigail Adams, and British General Thomas Gage. It begins to introduce George Washington, who (far and away) becomes the central figure and hero in Shaara’s follow-up The Glorious Cause. With Rise to Rebellion, the main protagonists are John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, two of the greatest statesmen in American history, and arguably world history. What’s interesting about Rise to Rebellion is that Shaara takes us into the politics behind the war and leading up to the war. This was new territory for him, as his previous books focused primarily on the wars themselves.

The book begins with the Boston Massacre and showcases John Adams’ principled defense of the British soldiers put on trial following that tragedy. It also shows how Ben Franklin tried valiantly to prevent war, only to see the situation in London unravel and the Mother Country go to war with its rebellious colonies. And it shows us Gage, a British general who tried to keep peace and order by preventing an ugly situation from spinning out of his control.

Shaara climbs into the heads of these historical figures, allowing them to step out from the dusty pages of the history books we studied in school and come alive. Does he use some creative license in doing so? Absolutely. Does he get all their thoughts exactly right? Probably not. But his painstaking research is obvious, and one gets the feeling that Shaara’s depiction of these famous (in some cases, legendary) historical figures isn’t far off the mark.

Rise to Rebellion is an inspiring book. It doesn’t contain as much military action as The Glorious Cause. Those looking for exciting battle scenes will probably be disappointed by the first half of Rise to Rebellion. But I found Shaara’s depiction of the politics and intrigue to be quite compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it. And of course I likewise recommend The Glorious Cause.