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Writer's Revolution: Walter Borneman on 'American Spring' (Q&A w/ event details)

Walter Borneman will present 'America Spring' at Barnes & Noble/New Haven on May 10th and R.J. Julia on May 12th.
Walter Borneman will present 'America Spring' at Barnes & Noble/New Haven on May 10th and R.J. Julia on May 12th.
www.walterborneman.net

Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Walter Borneman.

Mr. Borneman is the author of American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to the Revolution (Little, Brown and Company, $30.00) and will appear at Barnes & Noble/New Haven (May 10) and R.J. Julia (May 12) to meet readers. (See event details below.) He has written eight works of non-fiction and holds both a master’s degree in history and a law degree. Mr. Borneman has won awards from the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New York, the Tennessee Library Association and Historical Commission, and the Colorado Humanities Program, and also received the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature. He makes his home in Colorado.

American Spring was published earlier this week. Kirkus awarded the book a starred review, noting, “Borneman delivers a gripping, almost moment-by-moment account of the nasty exchanges and bloody retreat of British troops followed by hundreds and then thousands of militia who camped around Boston and laid siege.... A first-rate contribution." Further, John Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, praised, "Walter Borneman has written an engaging and illuminating account of some of the most critical weeks in American history. Here is how it all began."

From the publisher:

A new look at the American Revolution's first weeks, from the author of the bestseller The Admirals.

When we look back on our nation's history, the American Revolution can feel almost like a foregone conclusion. In reality, the first weeks of the war were much more tenuous, and a fractured and ragtag group of colonial militias had to coalesce to have even the slimmest chance of toppling the mighty British Army.

AMERICAN SPRING follows a fledgling nation from Paul Revere's little-known ride of December 1774 and the first shots fired on Lexington Green through the catastrophic Battle of Bunker Hill, culminating with a Virginian named George Washington taking command of colonial forces on July 3, 1775.

Focusing on the colorful heroes John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick Henry, and the ordinary Americans caught up in the revolution, Walter Borneman tells the story of how a decade of discontent erupted into an armed rebellion that forged our nation.

Now, Walter Borneman offers readers a historical perspective …

1) What was the impetus for writing AMERICAN SPRING – and how do you feel that your book stands apart from others on the topic?

I have always been interested in decisive turning points in history—a critical election, a major battle, or a spark that starts a revolution. Political conflict between Great Britain and the colonies had been going on for some years, but within the span of a few weeks in the spring of 1775, hope of reconciliation evaporated and it became a war. It was a very tenuous few months that could have gone either way. In telling the story, I really tried to focus on the original letters and diaries of the participants and capture their commitment as well as their anguish. There were those very committed on either side, but perhaps even more interesting are those who were caught in the middle and were finally forced to make a choice.

2) You focus on certain historical figures in your recounting of the American Revolution. How did you find this framework to influence storytelling – and was there any particular individual(s) that captured your interest unexpectedly?

History, if we peel back a layer or two, really is about individual people. While I always try to tell the big picture story for context, it's the farmer who grabbed his gun early one morning, the housewife who decided to make-do and boycott British goods, or the lawyer who pledged his allegiance to the king at the cost of his home, who interacted and made up a piece of the whole. Two of the characters who particularly captured my interest were Prince Estabrook, an African-American slave who stood on Lexington Green as a militiaman, and Margaret Kemble Gage, the wife of the British commander in chief. In both cases, I kept wishing that I could have met them and asked some burning questions.

3) It’s been said that past is prologue. How does this sentiment fit with your understanding of history – and what are some of the lessons from the revolution that are still relevant today?

Certain themes definitely reoccur throughout history—only the participants change. The opening months of the American Revolution are an example of the steady drumbeat of events coming closer and closer to a boiling point. In April 1775, that happens—not on Lexington Green in the first armed encounter—but later that afternoon on the return march to Boston when a pent-up fury explodes on the rebel side. Afterward, there are people aghast who can't believe things got so out of control. A similar escalation of events led to the start of World War I and we may well look back and ponder how things out so out of control in Ukraine. Perhaps even more relevant is the comparison between how a small group of rebels in 1775 used the media of the day—mostly letters and newspapers delivered by horseback—to rally support, to project a far more united front than existed, and to blame the other side for starting it. Today, that happens almost instantaneously via social media.

4) Tell us about your research process. When do you stop studying and start writing – and how do you endeavor to bring history alive for the reader?

I am a writer who has to start writing almost from the beginning. I am always doing research and filling in holes almost until the day I turn in a manuscript, but I have never been able to keep from putting thoughts down even if it is only to jot down a phrase that comes to me after a run or in the middle of the night. Sometimes, those are questions—why did John Hancock join up with such an unlikely political ally as Sam Adams? Posing and answering questions, as well as "what ifs," keeps the reader engaged. It is also the personal stories and how they fit into the broader context that help make history engaging—put a face on it, if you will—rather than, as my kids used to say, just boring dates and documents.

5) Given that you will be touring in support of the book, what do you believe is the role of the bookstore in the community? Also, how might attending one of your events enhance the overall reading experience?

My own local bookstore in my little town in Colorado is at the center of community events. I can't imagine the town without the book shop or the public library. So many of the freedoms fought for in the American Revolution are an integral part of both. I always enjoy doing bookstore events because I hear a lot of "I got interested in this because of that." History is everywhere and the key is to focus on what interests you and to follow that path. To the young person who says he or she "hates history," I always ask, "Well, what do you like?" Whatever the answer—soccer, rockets, cars, or horses—they all have a history.

***

With thanks to Walter Borneman for his generosity of time and thought and to Amelia Possanza and Carrie Neill, Publicity for Little, Brown and Company, for helping to facilitate this interview.

The following is a list of Mr. Borneman’s upcoming local appearances:

Saturday, May 10th—Barnes and Noble/New Haven (Yale), 2 PM. This event is free and open to the public. The Yale Bookstore is located at 77 Broadway @ York Square in New Haven.

Monday, May 12th – R.J. Julia Booksellers, 7 PM. This event is free; reservations are required and can be made online or by calling the bookstore at 203-245-3959. R.J. Julia is located at 768 Boston Post Rd. in Madison.