Be Free or Die by Cate Lineberry

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: How is this not a movie yet?!

Quick synopsis: A recounting of the life of Robert Smalls, Union hero during the Civil War.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Robert Smalls stole a Confederate ship and sailed it out to the waiting Union blockade right under the guns of a Confederate held fortress.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Read the fact above! I don’t care who you are, that is straight gangster! Then he bought the house he was born in as a slave! And let some of the white family members come back and live there with him!

My Take: This is a fantastic story which, unfortunately, the book does not live up to.

Lineberry certainly does not waste time. She immediately starts with the pilfering of the ship and the heading out to sea before adding some background. The first portion of this book is well-told, well-paced, and then really peters out. It is somewhat inexplicable because Smalls had a lot of life to live after this, but much of the very interesting times of his life post grand theft boat are banished to a short epilogue.

Lineberry tries to explain the other people in the story and provide an understanding of the Civil War at that time but she goes too far. You will find yourself thrilled by the opening chapters and then feel very much let down by the pacing and focus of the book thereafter. She doesn’t go deep enough into the time period for history buffs but spends too much time explaining things for a lay reader.

Robert Smalls had a gigantic life including being a long-time member of the House of Representatives. Quite frankly, I would have loved to see this story in the hands of Candice Millard. She understands better the need to keep your narrative focus and not ignoring portions of the subject’s life.

Verdict: Great story but will drag after the initial adventure.

If You Liked This Try:

  • James Malanowski, Commander Will Cushing
  • Ed O’Donnell, Ship Ablaze
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals
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Be Free or Die by Cate Lineberry
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