Two chapters near the end of Jeff Shaara’s historical novel Rise To Rebellion focus on Thomas Paine’s incendiary pamphlet Common Sense. Shaara even includes a handful of choice quotes from Paine, making sure the reader understands that Paine was the common man’s advocate for independence, as opposed to the sincere but often elite (and therefore sometimes out of touch) leaders at the Continental Congress. It was Paine’s words more than those of Adams or Henry or Hancock or Franklin that won over the Americans to the cause of revolution.
Is it a coincidence that I read Shaara’s novel at the same time that I read Glenn Beck’s attempt to update Paine’s pamphlet? Either way, the contrast proved useful.
Shaara’s Rise To Rebellion is the best historical novel I’ve ever read. He begins with the Boston Massacre and takes us through the lives, hearts, families, struggles, and triumphs of our Founding Fathers over the course of the subsequent six years, ending with the Declaration of Independence. He makes Franklin and Adams his protagonists, and suavely works in tons of trivia, as well as bringing to vivid, three-dimensional life the human stories that made their achievements even more awesome.
Here we see John and Abigail Adams trying to squeeze out a bare living as they raise a young family and maintain a loving marriage–it doesn’t help matters that John soon finds himself thrust into the middle of controversy, as he grows increasingly strong in his convictions over time.
Here we see Franklin as he tries to manage the office politics of England, at the cost of his own family relationships. He has much to regret despite his fame and fortune, and the chapters near the end where the emotional break between he and his loyalist son are laid bare are genuinely heartbreaking.