Book Review: The First Conspiracy

The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot Against George Washington And The Birth Of American Counterintelligence, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Flatiron Books courtesy of a Goodreads giveaway.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book can best be considered as a historical mystery.  While I would have liked to have seen the footnotes, they were not provided in this copy, but rest assured that they provide some fascinating reading that the authors have uncovered in this fast-paced and dramatic volume.  Coming in at about 400 pages, this is not a short book, but it reads very quickly.  In fact, it can be said that this book reads like its inevitable film or television adaptation, with short and punchy chapters that go back and forth in time.  As a reader of many books on history, I was very pleased by the structure of this book, because it made the book far easier to read and far more cinematic than many history books are.  Clearly, the authors are not merely masters of obscure and interesting historical material concerning historical mysteries, but are also masters of a compelling prose style that will likely appeal to many readers who want to know a largely unknown story from the early days of the American Revolution.

This book is divided into six parts.  The work begins with a prologue in media res that explains George Washington being subject to a trap that has been laid for him that he is not aware of.  Obviously, the reader, knowing him as the victorious leader of the Continental Army and the first president of the United States after the ratification of the Constitution, will want to know more.  The author then looks at the background of George Washington that prepared him for leadership (I).  A section of the book then follows looking at spies in Boston and Washington’s quick education in counterintelligence there (II).  Further parts of the book focus on the bloodiness of the Summer of 1776 (III), the infernal plot against Washington (IV), the question of sacricide (V) and the aftermath of the uncovering of the plot against Washington in the retreat of Washington and his troops from New York (VI).  The authors manage to tell this story by weaving together political and military history along with a great deal of procedural information that shows the skill the colonists were gaining in conducting intelligence and counterintelligence work, not only focusing on George Washington but also John Jay and more obscure figures on both sides.

There is a wide potential reading audience for a book like this.  On the one hand, the book has obvious historical interest for those who are interested in the American revolution, and particular the war as it relates to New York City and the divide that existed between loyalists and patriots.  Likewise, the book is of interest to those who like to read about counterintelligence and intelligence efforts in the American Revolution [1].  The story is told in a compelling fashion that draws upon shrewd psychological insights into important historical figures and also the realization the the American Revolution was full of the sort of skulduggery that one expects from contemporary warfare.  The authors make a strong case for John Jay’s role as an American pioneer in counterintelligence and also for the importance of the Life Guards as a precursor to the Secret Service, which also provides some historical plausibility for some of the authors’ other works that rely to areas where politics and government and espionage correspond.  This is a historical mystery and thriller, and a compelling one that deserves a wide and appreciative audience.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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