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The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss
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's review
Nov 24, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction-mainstream
Read in November, 2008

Liss, David. THE WHISKEY REBELS. (2008). ****. Liss is an excellent writer of historical thrillers/mysteries. His book, “A Conspiracy of Paper,” was excellent, and tough to beat with his subsequent efforts – though his second book, “The Coffee Trader,” came close. He has an inventive mind and is capable of interjecting fictional characters into the midst of well-researched historical events. This novel is set in the Federal Period, in the years between 1781 and 1792. The two principal players are Ethan Saunders, a disgraced drunk, who was convicted of being a double agent during the War of the Rebellion, and Joan Maycott, the wife of an early settler in Western Pennsylvania – a territory that was on the fringe of the civilized country at the time. The two become adverseries over the fate of Alexander Hamilton’s Bank of the United States – which was in its formative stages. Sounds like a boring premise, but Liss manages to insert enough truth into the drama that we can suddenly see that the events he describes may – although fictionally – have really happened. Hamilton and his bank were very controversial at the time, and were viewed by many as a regression to the ways of the English. One of his first moves was to have the bank assume all of the war debts of the states. These debts were then to be paid off through the sale of securities. In addition, several different excise taxes were imposed, including the hated whiskey tax. For people in Western Pennsylvania, whiskey was a form of money. They had no real currency and no real way of getting any, but used the whiskey they produced to trade among themselves for their needs. There was no way that they could get their goods to the Eastern markets because transport across the Allegheny Mountains was too difficult. Their other complaint was that the government imposed these excise taxes without providing the settlers protection against the indians of the region. The novel is peopled with real characters of the period, including, Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and George Washington. In addition to these, the author also uses such lesser known people as William Duer, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Philip Freneau, Anne Bingham, and James and Maria Reynolds. He also manages to realistically recreate the settings in colonial Philadelphia and New York. Recommended.

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