Monday, 26 December 2011

Will the Real Patrick Henry Please Stand Up

I just finished Thomas Kidd's new book, Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots (Basic Books, 2011). This is the sixth book in Kidd's astoundingly prolific career. Beginning with The Protestant Interest: New England After Puritanism (2004), Kidd has also published The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (2007), The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents (2007), American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism (2008), God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution (2010), and has a contract with Yale University Press to write a biography of George Whitefield. With roughly only a decade of experience as a full-time faculty member at Baylor University, Kidd and his impressive list of works places him on par with some of America's most seasoned scholars.

Patrick Henry consists of ten chapters and an epilogue and reads more like a popular biography of the patriot than a typical Kidd monograph full of annotations. Besides as a casual bedtime read, I see this book as a useful supplementary text for American history survey courses. Henry's story is placed within the context of life in colonial Virginia, the revivalist preaching during the Great Awakening, the Stamp Act crisis, the first shots fired at Lexington and Concord, declared independence from Britain, the fighting of the Continental Army, organization of the new republic, and the French Revolution. Kidd successfully argues that Henry is an important American patriot throughout this time, and not simply an orator who shouted "Give me liberty or give me death" and then faded into oblivion.

While I prefer Kidd's more scholarly monographs, in terms of the amount of information offered, Patrick Henry demonstrates that Kidd can write a captivating biography for a popular audience that is interested in American history from a Christian historian's perspective.

Jonathan M. Yeager

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