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David LissDescribe your latest project.
The Whiskey Rebels is a historical thriller about the first financial panic in American history, the Panic of 1792. Modern readers will have to use their imaginations to understand the financial conditions of the time: wild real estate speculation, a vigorous trade in potentially worthless instruments of credit, a widespread fear of bank failures, a superheated political rivalry fueled by malicious lies, and, finally, speculators so blinded by the allure of untamed wealth they are willing to endanger the entire American economy. Different world.
The Whiskey Rebels centers around two characters: Ethan Saunders is a former Revolutionary War spy, cast out of the army on charges of treason. We find him 10 years after this disgrace, for which he has always blamed Alexander Hamilton. He is now a drunk and a gambler, living on the fringes of Philadelphia. At his lowest moment, he is approached by the woman he would have married had his life not fallen apart. She believes that she and her children are in danger, and this danger is somehow connected to Alexander Hamilton, now Secretary of the Treasury, and his great project, the Bank of the United States.
Joan Maycott, the other principal character, is an ambitious woman who dreams of writing the first American novel. When she and her husband are tricked by speculators into trading all they have for land on the western frontier, they discover a hard world of cruelty and violence. But they also make a name for themselves as the region's premier whiskey distillers. Their lives, however, are ruined when, in order to fund his Bank, Hamilton convinces Congress to pass a tax on Whiskey, with disastrous results for the Maycotts. Believing that the American experiment has already gone horribly astray, Joan vows to destroy Hamilton, the Bank, and perhaps even the country.
The Whiskey Rebels is a tale of two characters steeped in the uncertain and fractious world of the early American republic. One is driven by a powerful need for redemption, the other by a need for revenge.
Lydia Bennet, the youngest sister in Pride and Prejudice. She's the one with terrible judgment who runs off with Mr. Wickham, that cad. Maybe I think she's just misunderstood. Or maybe I like bad girls. Or maybe I like fictional bad girls. Or maybe I'm just contrary.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Why do you write?
Name the best television series of all time.
Who's wilder on tour, rock bands or authors?
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis
I started reading about the founders and the origins of the American republic in late 2004. Political events of that year left me feeling like I didn't really know that much about my own country, and I wanted to have a better sense of who we were as a nation and where we came from. Ellis is a brilliant writer who drew me in immediately, helped me understand why Washington was such a monolithic figure in his time, and got me hooked on learning more about the other founders, whom he portrays with a novelist's sensibility and a historian's accuracy.
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis
I went straight for another Joseph Ellis book. I read many more, but I won't just include him on the list. This one is important, though, because he uses a series of separate stories about pivotal moments in the republic's early years to paint a broad picture of a tumultuous time and grand historical figures. This book gives the reader a clear sense of how the founders perceived the stakes, what they wanted for America's present and future, and how far they were willing to go to get it.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
I read a lot of biographies of the founders, and biographers often "go native" with their subjects, seeing the world as the subject sees the world. Hamilton had a lot of enemies, and in many of the books I read, I saw only his darker side. Chernow provides a much-needed corrective, and while he clearly finds much to admire in Hamilton and he should he never loses a sense of perspective. Hamilton comes across as a very flawed but very brilliant man.
There are many books out there about the Whiskey Rebellion, and I think I've probably read them all, but this one is my favorite. Hogeland recreates the events of the rebellion, but also does a wonderful job of relating what life was like on the Pennsylvania frontier, and he has the best analysis of the economic conditions that led to the uprising that I've yet seen. I don't always agree with his take on some of the major figures, especially Hamilton, but that's okay. I don't mind a little disagreement. This is a smart, informative, and engaging read.
The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick.
Not for the casual reader, I warn you. This is a big book, and it doesn't spend a lot of time trying to convince you that you are really interested in this stuff even if you don't think you are. But this is the book on the Federalist period, examining it from every conceivable angle and drawing conclusions that are very hard to argue with. This is the one book to read if you really want to know the early republic.
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David Liss is the author of A Spectacle of Corruption, The Coffee Trader, and A Conspiracy of Paper, winner of the 2000 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, as well as The Ethical Assassin. He lives in San Antonio with his wife and children.