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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Book Review: The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot Against George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

Since I've moved to New Jersey, I've been reading a heck of a lot more books on the Revolutionary War than I ever did before, and not just because of Hamilton. The topic of this book really intrigued me, but I knew it was written in a style I wasn't so sure about, but I gave it a try. And it was fun!

It's about a conspiracy by British Governor Tryon (yes, my North Carolina friends, the same guy your streets are named for) to turn American colonists to the British side during the early days of the Revolutionary War, including members of George Washington's personal body guards, who were plotting to assassinate Washington. When I mean early days, the climax of the book takes place one week before the Declaration of Independence was signed. One reason we've never heard of this is, aside from the very public sentence which was meant to be a lesson/warning to other soldiers, this was intentionally kept secret, and not publicized, so Washington in particular and the American army in general wouldn't look weak or vulnerable. But this was one of the first instances in modern times of counter-espionage, and when we (and the British and quickly after, everyone else) realized how counter-espionage was pretty much just as important as espionage. In that regard, this incident lead more or less directly to organizations like the CIA and Secret Service.

I don't want to give away too much. But I will say this is written in a very different style than other history books I've read. In present tense with short, choppy paragraphs which all end on a cliffhanger, the style of this book is much more in he vein of a thriller. It certainly does keep the action moving the the pages turning, even if it is not as straightforward, there's some repetition in all the foreshadowing, and present tense in a history is a bit odd. But it's fun, it's an easy read, and you will learn a lot.

This book is being published by Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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