Book review: Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick

Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2013 book, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, was difficult to put down. Philbrick paints a picture of pre-revolutionary Boston, the historic battle the book is named after and the siege of Boston until the British fled a year after the historic battle that will appeal to fans of American history.

Most Americans learn about colonial life and the American Revolution in school, but Philbrick provides much more detail than I ever recall learning. Chalk full of historical events, personalities and dates, the book reads as easily as any story but is all the more compelling because this is not the imagination of a talented author but are events that altered the trajectory of history. To quote Mark Twain, “truth is stranger than fiction”. Had Las Vegas existed, I can’t imagine what the odds would’ve been for this rag-tag group of disgruntled and disagreeable troublemakers a.k.a. “Patriots” to win on the battlefield against the British.

The Americans had lost 115 killed and had 305 wounded, with most of the casualties occurring during the retreat. Of the approximately 2,200 British soldiers in the battle, close to half — 1,054 — had been killed or wounded. The British had been victorious, but as Howe wrote, ‘The success is too dearly bought.’ “

Sometimes I refrain from reading a book if I already know the story so I’m glad I picked this up and would absolutely recommend it. It was fascinating to learn about the many people living in Boston at the time. A few that come to mind that I never heard of before reading this book include the poet Phillis Wheatley, born in 1753 in West Africa. She became a freed slave in Boston and bears the distinction of the first African-American author of a published book of poetry. The duplicitous traitor, Dr. Benjamin Church, was a contemporary of Benjamin Arnold. He did his best to undermine the efforts of colonialists after earning their trust and nearly succeeded. However, I was most surprised to learn about Dr. Joseph Warren who was the defacto leader of the resistance in Boston. If he had survived the Battle of Bunker Hill, he may very well have become the leader of the Continental Army in Boston and not George Washington.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book and open to supporting local bookstores, try one of the links I’ve shared below, which takes you right to the book so you can order it online in just a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can check your local library for a copy of this New York Times Bestseller.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner
Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square
Porter Square Bookstore in Porter Square
Trident Bookseller’s & Cafe in Back Bay (currently less than $10.00)

2 responses to “Book review: Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick

  1. This sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review.


  2. “Fiction makes the reality of the 1920s far more vivid than a historical text ever could,” writes Robin Will, President of the Gay & Lesbian Archive of the Pacific Northwest (, in his blurb for my book Acquaintance, Book 1 of Medicine For The Blues trilogy. Sounds like this is equally true for Philbrick’s Bunker Hill.



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