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Israel Potter

3.46  ·  Rating Details ·  224 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
Herman Melville's "Israel Potter" is the Fictionalised tale of a man who really did fight in the American Revolution -- a man who lived a life of very real adventure. After fighting in the revolution, he went on to be a part of the newly-established United States Navy, ended up serving as a secret courier for Benjamin Franklin Bits of this are fiction, and may be even more ...more
Paperback, 164 pages
Published December 1st 2006 by Aegypan (first published 1855)
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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles DickensThe Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel HawthorneMoby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman MelvilleMadame Bovary by Gustave FlaubertDavid Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Best Books of the Decade: 1850s
101st out of 108 books — 152 voters
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman MelvilleBartleby the Scrivener by Herman MelvilleBilly Budd and the Piazza Tales by Herman MelvilleThe Confidence-Man by Herman MelvilleTypee by Herman Melville
A Melville Checklist
12th out of 16 books — 6 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Eddie Watkins
Sep 29, 2014 Eddie Watkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
I have long been curious about the relative silence among readers surrounding this late novel of Melville’s. No one I know has ever read it, even people I know who are Melville fanatics. I had always assumed it was a gloomy account of an everyman wandering lost in the Holy Land and never found myself in the mood to read such a novel. But the silence surrounding it still intrigued me. After a rereading of The Confidence Man a couple years ago which reinvigorated my interest in Melville I decided ...more
Jun 03, 2016 Cheryl rated it it was ok
Abandoning this 3/4 through. I just cannot read about another sea battle. (Not my thing.)The writing isn't that good, either. Melville wrote this only for the money, and it shows. It's just a bunch of adventures strung together. Just not for me.
Oct 03, 2015 Mat rated it really liked it
Around the time that Melville wrote, or began to write Israel Potter, legend has it that he was in pretty dire financial straits. Destitute basically. Therefore, this is a book that he sat down to write in a desperate attempt to make some more money for his family.
Imagine having as much talent as Melville, and knowing deep down inside how talented you are, feeling at the end of your life that half if not most of your works and manuscripts had already been forgotten. That must be a pretty sad, f
Will Miller
Dec 20, 2007 Will Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this is good. And totally off the radar. Melville, between outrageous experiments, writes a rather straight-forward biography of a forgotten Revolutionary War hero - and the result is hilariously funny. And very, very sad. If only he had written a few more of these "for the money" style books; the clean plot and unexperimental setting actually help one to appreciate the subtlety and charm of his prose. It's a crime this book isn't more widely known. It might be the most interesting and sati ...more
John Caviglia
Sep 07, 2015 John Caviglia rated it it was amazing
A mini Melville, yet he's in full voice. But then, is he ever not?
Aug 13, 2014 Kevin rated it really liked it
Probably should rate this lower... most of it is entertaining but forgettable. Historical semi-fiction, partly rewriting a real published autobiography of an obscure Revolutionary War soldier named Israel Potter, though freely adding to it, bringing in both scenes taken from history books that Potter wasn't really involved in and mixing in pure fiction, with swashbuckling sea battles, prison escapes, secret passages, comic set pieces, meetings with historical figures (Ben Franklin, John Paul Jon ...more
Tyler Jones
Aug 20, 2015 Tyler Jones rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really great novel that, for some reason, few people seem to know about. A picaresque comic romp based on the dubious biography of a self-proclaimed veteran of the battle of Bunker Hill, it starts off rather slowly. However, when Melville departs from the text of his source material the book really comes to life. Potter's adventures are fast paced and peopled with many historical figures of the time (think of Forest Gump set in 1776), making the story appealing to anyone who simply wan ...more
Jim Leckband
Jul 19, 2012 Jim Leckband rated it really liked it
Your name is destiny. If not in real life than it is if your name is attached to a self-published pamphlet picked up by another author who can't fail to write a paragraph without a symbol or allegory creeping in.

Israel Potter is a man fashioned in the clay of his times to be a man without a country or even an identity, wandering for 40 years in an English wilderness cut off from his American Canaan. Hence the "Israel" and hence the "Potter". While a young man in the Revolutionary War he has many
Randee Baty
Jun 25, 2015 Randee Baty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
I had never read a thing by Herman Melville and couldn't have told you anything he wrote except for Moby Dick before I took a class about him. I've really come to enjoy his writing. If all you've experienced of Melville is Moby-Dick, you might be surprised by his other writings. This book is a straight forward narrative of the life of a Revolutionary War soldier. It's based on a autobiography of a real soldier but Melville does fictionalize it and loves to add in historical characters.

Israel Po
Apr 29, 2013 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013
Quite a curious little book. It's tonally all over the place, purposely, one would think. You can see fragments that remind you of Pierre, of The Confidence-Man, of Redburn and White-Jacket. Highlights include the strange and irreverent portrayals of Ben Franklin, John Paul Jones, and Ethan Allen.

Perhaps strangest of how successful Melville is in delivering a rather poignant end to all the strange mad whirls of styles that have filled the previous 180 pages.

Still, if you're interested in post-MD
Frank Hestvik
The semi-fictionalized retelling of a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, his capture, escape, and adventures, spending most of his life on English soil. Humorous at times, exciting at others, somewhat boring between the two; it was OK.

Do not read it if, like me, you're a slow reader and want to read Melville without having to mount his Dick. It's nowhere near as good as his other shorter pieces of fiction.
Mark Stephenson
Jan 14, 2014 Mark Stephenson rated it really liked it
Melville's one known historical novel is a rollicking read with Ben Franklin and John Paul Jones figuring as major characters. This is his shortest novel and is highly recommended as a first approach to this endlessly enigmatic and and challenging author.
Charles Berman
Jul 08, 2009 Charles Berman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Charming, very humorous, and ultimately very sad story of a revolutionary soldier's misadventures, grounded in the ultimate failure of human loyalties and intentions against the blind power of pure luck.
Ani Jivkova
Jul 29, 2014 Ani Jivkova rated it it was amazing
Sneh Pradhan
Jul 01, 2014 Sneh Pradhan rated it really liked it
Reminded me of "Born on the 4th of July "....
Pure Melville, even if he did only write it for a paycheck.
Aug 12, 2014 Joe rated it it was ok
I've never been a huge reader of Melville and of the little that I did read I never really cared for much. Israel Potter, although falling into that latter category of uninteresting Melville reads, was still okay and even enjoyable to an extent.

The story is constantly moving which I think is more often than not a good thing but at moments it can really make the story seem too silly. Title character Israel escaping from authority figures and jails several times within the course of 50 pages start
Ben Eldridge
Jun 25, 2012 Ben Eldridge rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Basically a novelistic adaptation of an autobiography, this book raises some issues of narrative ethicality. Melville's novel plays with historical chronology, uses major historical figures to disingenuous ends, and intrusively threads through intertextual references from historical texts (the bombardment of biblical references was frustrating) to make a pretentious rehash of a sad life story. The exploration of some of the broader contextual relationships between Britain and America were intere ...more
Jerry M
Jan 20, 2016 Jerry M rated it really liked it
This is an enjoyable short novel by Melville. It is the only historical novel he wrote, though it does stray from the facts a bit. It is based on accounts of the real Israel Potter who became a soldier in the Revolutionary War, was captured, brought to England, became a spy, met George III and Benjamin Franklin. Melville dresses up Potter's story by adding some people and adventures that Potter never had. Parts of the book, in particular the escape from captivity can remind one of the stories Jo ...more
Apr 02, 2011 Mark rated it it was ok
Uninspired. Melville borrows heavily from other sources for the telling of this story, based on actual events, without adding any of the flights of speculative fancy or bravura recontextualizations that make his best works sing.
John Jr.
I read this one summer when I was relatively young, at the suggestion of a professor, and would undoubtedly find more to appreciate in it now.
Leora Bersohn
Better than expected... but expectations were low. Still formulating thoughts for dissertation chapter.
I didn't particularly enjoy this book. The story was very convoluted. The only thing of intrest I found in this story were Melville's descriptions of John Paul Jones's naval battles.
Roman foisonnant écrit avec détachement.
Michael rated it liked it
Dec 22, 2014
Wally rated it really liked it
Jul 24, 2012
Edgar Nunez
Edgar Nunez rated it it was ok
Mar 17, 2013
Soph rated it liked it
Aug 17, 2012
Tom Moody
Tom Moody rated it really liked it
Jul 29, 2016
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Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. His first two books gained much attention, though they were not bestsellers, and his popularity declined precipitously only a few years later. By the time of his death he had been almost completely forgotten, but his longest novel, Moby-Dick — largely considered a failure during his lifetime, and most responsible for ...more
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“Best followed now is this life, by hurrying, like itself, to a close.
Few things remain.
He was repulsed in efforts after a pension by certain caprices of law. His scars proved his only medals. He dictated a little book, the record of his fortunes. But long ago it faded out of print--himself out of being--his name out of memory. He died the same day that the oldest oak on his native hills was blown down.”
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