Thursday, October 21, 2010

Book Review: The Last Muster

Title: The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation
Author: Maureen Taylor
Hardcover: 177 pages
Publisher: Kent State University Press; 1 edition (July 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1606350552
ISBN-13: 978-1606350553
Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 7.3 x 0.6 inches

I am a bit late in reviewing this title since it came out in July, but once I received my own copy of this wonderful book, I knew it still needed some deserved attention. I first took note of this title at the FGS Conference in Knoxville. My business partner and I had wrapped up our things and were leaving the exhibit hall for the last time when I spotted this title on the bottom shelf of one of the other booths. As someone who harbors an almost obsessive fascination with antique photographs, I stopped in mid-exit and grabbed the book. This title also spoke to another lifelong obsession I have had - Revolutionary History. Since the age of about 16, I've been fascinated by pre-Revolutionary Boston, and how the developments affected the common citizens. The idea of being able to see photographs of those common citizens was a thrilling notion, bordering on genius, in my opinion!

This book is such an enjoyable read. The photos chosen were clear and interesting....and in most cases captivating. Sometimes, the reader can easily become mesmerised by the solemn or at times charismatic stare of the subjects. Their eyes tell such stories and leave the reader with no doubt as to the driving force behind their adventurous pasts and determined longevity. I found it interesting that I had always been guilty of romanticizing that generation. Growing up and hearing of their exploits painted a grand image worthy of heroic status. As adults we recognize and try to get rid of that false romanticism, but as I looked at these faces, and read their fascinating stories, I found myself justifying the romantic image our history had bestowed upon them.

One of the strengths of this work, is how each image is presented and the commentary that accompanies each one. The enlarged, clear image is on one page, with the text on the facing page. There are no visual distractions which allows you to focus on the details. As their story unfolds, Maureen also interjects some observations her trained and experienced eyes have detected. One of my favorite themes she notes for several images is the recycling of older style dress. Just as our older generations today are fond of the old comfortable polyester sets, so the older generations of the mid-19th century favored the comfortable styles of their youth, or at least their middle age. This then gives the photos an added textile value. To see these older styles as they would have been worn is priceless. Of course, not all were worn due to comfort preference. Some were worn simply to accentuate their 18th century connection. There are several examples as evidenced when the subject brought out their tricorn hat in celebration of their Revolutionary association. Many of the photos were taken as mementos of grand birthday or anniversary celebrations, which accounts for the fancy and antiquated garb.

The details and research presented about each subject seems to be well done. I did find myself wanting to read more about some of the more charismatic individuals, although, sometimes there was very little to be found about them in the historical record, and Maureen has documented what remained. This is probably the area where I found a bit of weakness. In presenting the information about the subjects, I ran across several typos in the final published edition. In some cases it involved two different spellings of a person's last name (Hillard vs. Hilliard p.109), and in one case, the date listed for a second marriage was after the subject's listed death date (Tomlinson p.135). In my opinion, it does not detract from the beauty of the work, but speaks heavily of the publisher (Kent State Univ. Press) who should have had enough proof readers to catch the mistakes. These errors and a lack of index does limit the work as a research tool, since most genealogists or researchers would want to quickly peruse an index to catch a certain surname or event. However, the bibliography for each profile is quite thorough and a handy resource.

Overall, it is a beautiful piece of work. As a historical resource it is important on several levels, and also serves as a great conversation piece! I did notice that most of the subjects were from the New England area. Which made me suspect that there may be another large collection of Revolutionary generation members just waiting to be discovered in Southern Universities, Museums or attics. Of course, provenance and identification are the main challenges which Maureen handled beautifully, but if she wants to continue the search for this generation, a Last Muster II would be well received!

Rating: 4.5 Quills
Happy reading!
CD 10/21/10



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