Sam Adams: A Life, by Ira Stoll (Free Press, 352 pp., $28)
When, in April 1775, Paul Revere set off from Boston to Lexington, his main mission was not, as generations of schoolchildren once were taught, to “spread the alarm through every Middlesex village and farm.” That Revere did, though his most urgent task was to warn two individuals that British troops were on the move. The two whom Revere was told the British wanted to seize (and most likely hang) were John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
These names remain familiar today, though if most Americans do not know quite who they were and what they did, this is not Longfellow’s fault. John Hancock is an insurance company. Paul Revere makes tableware. In the Midwest, he operates pizza joints promising “Revolutionary Home Delivery.” Sam Adams is a beer marketed to frat boys — odd, considering the upright character of this most pious of Bostonians.