Monday, August 15, 2011

New Biography Of Ethan Allen

Real Estate and the American Revolution in Slate describes Ethan Allen: His Life and Times by Willard Sterne Randall. The essay by François Furstenberg about the book makes Allen sound very much the way I found him to be when I was researching him for The Hero of Ticonderoga. Furstenberg says, "Randall wants to cast Allen as "a leader and moral figure to be trusted. But that rings hollow."

What makes Ethan Allen so fascinating to me is that he wasn't a "moral figure" anyone ought to have trusted, and he probably wasn't even much of a leader. He was an unsuccessful everyman with a gift for gab (Furstenberg says Allen's prison memoir--still in print!--was the "second-greatest best-seller of the Revolutionary Era") who became a big name in his own time in spite of himself.

What's inspiring about him is that his life experience suggests that given the right combination of circumstances, a self-educated, opinionated, unpopular, professional failure whose consumption of alcohol was the stuff of legend can become immortal. I can't help myself. I have to love the guy.

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