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Betsy Ross and the Making of America by…
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Betsy Ross and the Making of America

by Marla R. Miller

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813148,805 (3.68)3
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Very technical but a good insight in the world of early colonial America. ( )
  kyragtopgirl | Jan 12, 2012 |
Excellent book on the life and accomplishments of Betsy Ross from an academic perspective. The author put a great deal of time and energy into the research for this book. Who knew that the Betsy Ross story may be more legend than reality? An enjoyable read, especially after visiting the Betsy Ross house in Philadelphia. ( )
  dd196406 | Aug 6, 2011 |
Normally when I review a book, I first read the book and write my review, then I read reviews written by other people. In the case of "Betsy Ross and the Making of America", my introduction to the book was via a review in the "New York Times Book Review" dated May 9, 2010. It was not a flattering review. The reviewer, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a professor at Harvard, accuses the author, Marla R. Miller, a professor of American History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, of "sentimental fiction" which "weakens her own historical prose, which is strong enough to stand on its own" and "defeats the ultimate purpose of her book, which is to rediscover the woman behind the legend." Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the fact that, other than books for children, this is the first biography of Betsy Ross ever written. Intrigued enough to buy and read the book despite the poor review.

By the end of the first chapter, I had forgotten about the scathing review and was completely hooked. I literally couldn’t put the book down. This was American history as I had never read it before. These were real people and real experiences, not the usual dry recitations of politics and battles and tactics. I never liked American history. I felt it was boring compared to the thousands of years of history of Europe and the Mediterranean. Having been forced in high school to memorize every battle and every general of the Revolutionary War, I subsequently tuned out the following 200 years, learning just enough to pass exams while devoting my spare time to Egyptian pharaohs, Roman emperors and English kings who chopped their wives’ heads off. Now that’s history.

It is precisely the "sentimental fiction" that makes this book interesting to the general reader. Rather than a dry overview of the development of the city of Philadelphia, we see it from the point of view of Betsy’s great-grandfather, a master carpenter. It’s one thing to read about the tactics, such as boycotts, the colonists used to protest what they perceived to be unfair taxation. It’s quite another to read about the effects those boycotts had on the local artisans and merchants. The yellow fever epidemics that killed so many residents of Philadelphia are more meaningful when we learn of the various family members lost. Rather than just numbers, they are people that we have come to know. Small details like the families who were split between loyalty to the king and loyalty to the rebellion, illustrates the upheaval caused by this colonial rebellion much better than the usual political analysis commonly found in books on the American Revolution.

The final criticism in the review with which I disagreed was that the author devoted "only" 50 pages out of a total of 362 pages to the last 40 years of Betsy’s life, despite the fact that these are the best documented years of her life. I have to admit that after 300 pages, I was pretty much Betsy Ross'ed out. Not only was her life prior to and during the Revolution tumultuous (three husbands and seven daughters), but just trying to keep all the people, many of whom had the same names, straight made my head spin. The author’s decision to gloss over the details of the latter part of Betsy Ross’ life was a sound one. And, in the best Hollywood tradition, leaves room for a "sequel", a more in depth analysis of her life after the Revolution, to be written by the author or another historian.

After I finished the book, I went back and read the review again. My second reading of the review led me to the conclusion that the problem lay in the intention of the author. The reviewer was critiquing the book from a scholarly point of view whereas it seemed to me that the author intended her book to be read by both scholars and general readers. Scholars are more interested in facts and conclusions supported by facts. Hence the harsh review. General readers like myself do tend to speculate as we read. What was she thinking? How would I have reacted in this situation? We enjoy seeing events through the eyes and emotions of ordinary people like ourselves rather than from the lofty perspective of presidents, kings and generals. ( )
1 vote OldRoses | Jun 18, 2010 |
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To my parents

and my husband,

with love and gratitude
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The number of bidders responding to the auctioneer's call collapsed to a handful within moments, the audience watching closely the expressionless faces of men and women whispering into their phones, waiting to see who would act next.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805082972, Hardcover)

A richly woven biography of the beloved patriot Betsy Ross, and an enthralling portrait of everyday life in Revolutionary War-era Philadelphia

Betsy Ross and the Making of America is the first comprehensively researched and elegantly written biography of one of America's most captivating figures of the Revolutionary War. Drawing on new sources and bringing a fresh, keen eye to the fabled creation of "the first flag," Marla R. Miller thoroughly reconstructs the life behind the legend. This authoritative work provides a close look at the famous seamstress while shedding new light on the lives of the artisan families who peopled the young nation and crafted its tools, ships, and homes.

Betsy Ross occupies a sacred place in the American consciousness, and Miller's winning narrative finally does her justice. This history of the ordinary craftspeople of the Revolutionary War and their most famous representative will be the definitive volume for years to come.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:22 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A richly woven biography of the beloved patriot Betsy Ross, her fabled creation of "the first flag," and an enthralling portrait of everyday life in Revolutionary War-era Philadelphia.

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