If you're not familiar with author Nathaniel Philbrick, that'll soon change. Ron Howard is making Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea into a feature film, his book Mayflower is being adapted into a television series by FX, and Ben Affleck’s production company has optioned Bunker Hill, his most recent book. Not half bad.
Nathaniel Philbrick is a great American history writer. He’s got a distinct voice, a wonderful storytelling ability and a wide range of interest. From whalers, to Pilgrims, to Plains Indians, his bestsellers cover a great breadth of real estate. Doc Richards and I had the distinct pleasure of attending a book talk led by Mr. Philbrick last night at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. His latest title, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution was the subject.
I was in the car early. The talk was at 7pm and we had dinner reservations at the Mount Vernon Inn beforehand. Traffic wasn’t an issue. I ended up killing time at Riverside Park just off the GW Parkway in order to admire the view and write in my journal. Eventually, Mom and I met at the appointed location. The meal was promptly devoured (I had the shrimp & grits) and we decompressed with some cocktails and conversation. This was followed by a casual stroll through Mount Vernon’s gift shop prior to entering the auditorium. “Women love this stuff,” my mom told me as she looked over the frilly table settings and stationary. I detached myself for a moment to purchase a hardcover copy of Bunker Hill in anticipation of the book signing which was to take place later in the evening. Reconnecting, we went inside and found our seats.
It was an older crowd. I was the youngest guy in the room so, needless to say, it was a prime location to scope babes. Unfortunately, I was too distracted by tales of armed rebellion and Patriot glory.
The event itself was free. All I had done in order to procure tickets was reserve them online. Mount Vernon (and the Ladies Association that runs it) is just a first class organization from top-to-bottom. They’ve got a great new research library, an awesome event calendar, a freshly redesigned website and … oh yes, they maintain the legacy of the greatest American in history.
Mr. Philbrick’s talk was terrific. He cut right to the chase and gave a brisk, informative recounting of events detailed in his book; a book in which revolutionary era Boston is the main character. The talk ranged over the Tea Party, the city’s occupation, the explosions at Lexington & Concord and the great bloodletting at Bunker Hill, the life and death of Joseph Warren, followed by the arrival of George Washington on the scene. I’d tell you more, but that’s what the book is for. Go out and buy one (besides, I'm gonna write a book review eventually, so I need to leave some fruit on the tree).
Philbrick seems a man after my own heart. The key sentence for me was when he said, “I write the history that I’m learning right now.” I love that. Find a topic the inspires, learn all you can about it and then translate that knowledge into your own words. Rinse. Repeat. This is why he’s been able to cover so much ground in his writing career. You don’t need decades of fixated effort within a single subject area to produce compelling history. That’s no knock on guys like James McPherson or Joseph Ellis - they’re awesome. Like ACDC, they've got a winning formula and it rocks hard enough to melt your face. David Bowie, on the other hand, has gone through more looks than Peter Sellers in Doctor Strangelove and still plays to packed houses. So what I’m saying is that Philbrick is like David Bowie - got that?
I also got him to sign my book. Here's the proof,