When your favorite history professor writes a book

During the spring semester of the 1986 to 1987 academic year, I was a freshman at Northern Kentucky University in the Cincinnati area.

That proved to be an interesting and academically enriching semester for me. For one thing, I had the opportunity that spring to meet poet Richard Wilbur (1921 – 2017). I took a particularly enjoyable astronomy class.

I also took a class on the American Revolution. I wasn’t a history major, and this was a general studies requirement. Not that I minded. I have always loved the study of history, and I almost chose it as my major.

The professor, Michael C. C. Adams, was British. Oh, the ironies, right? A British professor teaching a class on the American Revolution, in the heart of America at the height of the Reagan era.

It turned out to be one of the most enlightening history courses I’ve ever taken. Dr. Adams provided a unique, admittedly British perspective on the American Revolution. And I learned a lot about the revolution that I hadn’t known.

For example, Dr. Adams pointed out why the British were taxing the American colonies so heavily to begin with: mostly to pay off the debt for the French and Indian War, which had benefited the American colonists in various ways.

He also informed us of the mythologizing of the so-called Boston Massacre. It wasn’t quite like I’d been led to believe: evil redcoats wantonly massacring American colonists.

The poorly named Boston Massacre was actually a case of mob control gone awry. By most accounts, the redcoats were outnumbered and goaded into firing. Some members of the crowd were shouting at the British soldiers, “Fire and be damned!”

Oh, and the mob was pelting the outnumbered Brits with ice, rocks, and oyster shells.

I didn’t interpret these lessons as the sort of knee-jerk anti-Americanism that is common in American academia today. This was miles removed from neo-Marxist nonsense like “critical race theory”, or the distorted pseudo-history of the late Howard Zinn. Dr. Adams’s perspective was, rather, a valuable counterbalance to the hagiographic, almost mystical depiction of the American Revolution that I’d grown up with.

As chance would have it, Dr. Adams lived not far from me, and I ran into him a few times off-campus. He was a bit standoffish (as one would expect a British professor to be when forced to mingle with unwashed Yanks); but he was always cordial enough.

While browsing on Amazon, I recently discovered that Dr. Adams has published several books in the intervening years. His titles include Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War, and The Best War Ever: America and World War II.

His main publisher is Johns Hopkins University Press, which explains the horrible, uncommercial covers. (Dr. Adams, being a credentialed academic, probably wouldn’t be hip on the idea of self-publishing, and I won’t quibble with that. In academic publishing, being vetted by an established publishing house still matters.)

Both books seem to do what that long-ago class on the American Revolution did: present a side of our history that might not be immediately obvious and apparent to the average American reader.

If history is your thing, I would recommend you check out both books. I haven’t read either one yet, but I can definitely recommend the author.

I should also note: Dr. Adams had no part in this endorsement. I haven’t communicated with him since 1987; and he wouldn’t remember me as a student in one of his classes at NKU more than three decades ago.

He probably wouldn’t even welcome this endorsement/recommendation. In fact, I rather suspect that he’d be mildly horrified. But I’m going to make the endorsement/recommendation  anyway. Like I said, Dr. Adams was one of the best instructors I had during my college years.