The Whiskey Rebels

The Whiskey Rebels

by David Liss


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America, 1787. Ethan Saunders, once among General Washington’s most valued spies, is living in disgrace after an accusation of treason cost him his reputation. But an opportunity for redemption comes calling when Saunders’s old enemy, Alexander Hamilton, draws him into a struggle with bitter rival Thomas Jefferson over the creation of the Bank of the United States.

Meanwhile, on the western Pennsylvania frontier, Joan Maycott and her husband, a Revolutionary War veteran, hope for a better life and a chance for prosperity. But the Maycotts’ success on an isolated frontier attracts the brutal attention of men who threaten to destroy them.

As their causes intertwine, Joan and Saunders–both patriots in their own way–find themselves on opposing sides of a plot that could tear apart a fragile new nation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812974539
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/16/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 254,464
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

David Liss is the author of The Whiskey Rebels, The Ethical Assassin, A Spectacle of Corruption, The Coffee Trader, and A Conspiracy of Paper, winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. He lives in San Antonio with his wife and children.


San Antonio, Texas

Date of Birth:

March 16, 1966

Place of Birth:

Englewood, New Jersey


B.S., M.A., M.Phil.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Ethan Saunders

It was rainy and cold outside, miserable weather, and though I had not left my boardinghouse determined to die, things were now different. After consuming far more than my share of that frontier delicacy Monongahela rye, a calm resolution had come over me. A very angry man named Nathan Dorland was looking for me, asking for me at every inn, chophouse, and tavern in the city and making no secret of his intention to murder me. Perhaps he would find me tonight and, if not, tomorrow or the next day. Not any later than that. It was inevitable only because I was determined not to fight against the tide of popular

opinion—which is to say, that I ought to be killed. It was my decision to submit, and I have long believed in keeping true to a plan once it has been cast in earnest.

It is a principle I cultivated during the war—indeed, one I learned from observing General Washington himself. This was in the early days of the Revolution, when His Excellency still believed he might defeat the British in pitched battle, Continental style, with our ill- disciplined and badly equipped militias set against the might of British regulars. It was the decisive military victory he wanted; indeed, in those early days it was the only sort he believed worth having. He would invite the officers to dine with him, and we would drink claret and eat roast chicken and sip our turtle soup and he would tell us how we were going to drive the Redcoats back at Brooklyn, and the unfortunate affair would be over before winter.

That was during the war. Now it was early in 1792, and I sat at the bar of the Lion and Bell in that part of Philadelphia euphemistically called Helltown. In that unsavory scene, I drank my whiskey with hot water while I waited for death to find me. I kept my back to the door, having no wish to see my enemy coming and because the Lion and Bell was as unlovely a place as Helltown offered—and those were mighty unlovely. The air was thick with smoke from pipes plugged full of cheap tobacco, and the floor, naught but dirt, had turned to mud with the icy rain outside and the spills and spitting and tobacco juice. The benches lay lopsided in the newly made hummocks and ruts of the ground, and the drunken patrons would, from time to time, topple over and tumble like felled timber into the muck. Perhaps a drinker might take the trouble to roll a friend over to keep him from drowning, though there could be no certainty. Helltown friends were none the best.

It was a curious mix there: the poor, the whores, the desperate, the servants run off for the night or the month or forever. And alongside them, throwing dice upon uneven surfaces or hunched over a hand of cards spread across ripped velvet, were the gentlemen in their fine woolen suits and white stockings and shimmering silver buckles. They’d come to gawk and to rub elbows with the colorful filth, and most of all they’d come to game. It was the spirit of the city, now that Alexander Hamilton, that astonishing buffoon, had launched his great project, the Bank of the United States. As Secretary of the Treasury, he had single-handedly transformed the country from a republican beacon for mankind into a paradise for speculators. Ten years earlier, with a single stroke, he had transformed me from patriot to outcast.

I removed from my pocket a watch, currently my only possession of value if one did not account my slave, Leonidas. I had, despite the decisions that had prevailed among the wise drafters of our Constitution, never quite learned to think of Leonidas as property. He was a man, and as good a man as any I’d known. It sat ill with me to keep a slave, particularly in a city like Philadelphia, whose small population of owned blacks numbered in the dozens, and one could find fifty free blacks for each bondsman. I could never sell Leonidas, no matter how dire my need, because I did not think it right to buy and sell men. On the other hand, though it was no fault of his, Leonidas would fetch at auction as much as fifty or sixty pounds’ worth of dollars, and it had always seemed to me madness to emancipate such a sum.

So the timepiece, in practical terms, was currently my only thing of worth—a sad fact, given that I had removed it from its rightful owner only a few hours earlier. Its glittering face told me it was now half past eight. Dorland would have eaten his fashionably late dinner well over two hours ago, giving him ample time to collect his friends and come in search of me. It could be any minute now.

I slid back into my pocket the timepiece I’d taken on Chestnut Street. The owner had been a fat jackanapes, a self-important merchant. He’d been talking to another fat jackanapes and had paid no mind while I brushed past him. I’d not planned to take the watch, nor did I make a habit of such things as common theft, but it had been so tempting, and there seemed to be no reason not to claim it and then disappear in that crowded street, clacking with the walking sticks of bankers and brokers and merchants. I saw the watch, saw it might be taken, and saw how I might take it.

Even then, if that had been all, I would have let it go, but then I heard the man speak. It was his words, not my need, that drove me to take what was not mine. This man, this lump of a man, who resembled a great and corpulent bottom-heavy bear, forced into a crushed-velvet blue suit, had been invited to a gathering the next week at the house of Mr. William Bingham. That was all I knew of him, that he, a mere maker of money, nothing more than a glorified storekeeper, had been invited to partake of the finest society in Philadelphia—indeed, in the nation. I, who had sacrificed all for the Revolution, a man who had risked life in return for less than nothing, was little more than a beggar. So I took his watch, and I defy anyone to blame me.

Now that it was mine, I examined the painting in the inside cover, a young lady of not twenty, plump of face, like the watch’s owner, with a bundle of yellow hair and eyes far apart and open wide, as though she’d been in perpetual astonishment while she sat for the portrait. A daughter? A wife? It hardly mattered. I had taken from a stranger a thing he loved, and now Nathan Dorland was coming to avenge such wrongs, too innumerable to catalogue.

“Handsome timepiece,” said Owen, standing behind the bar. He was a tall man with a head long and narrow, shaped like one of the pewter mugs into which he poured his ales, with wheat-colored hair that curled up like foam. “Timepiece like that might go a way toward paying a debt.” He held out one of his meaty hands, covered with oil and filth and blood from a fresh cut on his palm to which he paid no mind.

I shrugged. “With all my heart, but you must know the watch is newly thieved.”

He withdrew the hand and wiped it on his filthy apron. “Don’t need the trouble, but I ought to send you to fence it now, before you lose it at game.”

“Should I turn the watch to ready, I would not use it for something so ephemeral as a tavern debt.” I pushed my empty mug toward him. “Another, if you please, my good man.”

Owen stared for a moment, his tankard of a face collapsed in purse- lipped indecision. He was a young man, not two-and-twenty, and he had a profound, nearly religious reverence for those who had fought in the war. Living, as he did, in such a place as Helltown, and moving through indifferent social circles, he had never heard how my military career had met its conclusion, and I saw no advantage in sharing information that would lead to his disillusionment.

Instead, I favored other details. Owen’s father died in the fighting at Brooklyn Heights, and more than once had I treated Owen to the tale of how I had met his father that bloody day, when I was captain of a New York regiment, before my true skills were discovered and I was no longer to be found upon the battlefield. That day I led men, and when I told Owen the tale, my voice grew thick with cannon fire and death screams and the wet crunch of British bayonet against patriot flesh. I would recount how I had given Owen’s honored father powder during the chaos of the ignominious retreat. With blood and limbs and musket balls flying about us, the air acrid with smoke, the British slaughtering us with imperial fury, I had taken the time to aid a militia volunteer, for we had shared a moment of revolutionary comradeship that defied our differences in rank and station. The tale kept the drinks flowing.

Owen took my mug, poured in some whiskey from an unstoppered bottle and hot water from a pitcher near the stove. He set it down before me with a considerable thud.

“Some would say you’ve had your fill,” he told me.

“Some would,” I agreed.

“Some would say you’re abusing my generosity.”

“Impertinent bastards.”

Owen turned away and I opened the watch once more, setting it upon the counter, where I might stare at the tick of its hands and the girl who had meant so much to the merchant. To my right sat an animated skeleton of a man in a ragged coat that covered remarkably unclean linen. His face was unshaved, and his nasty eyes, lodged between the thinning brown hair of his crown and the thickening brown hair of his cheeks, stole glances at my prize. I’d seen him come in an hour earlier and slide a few coins across the bar to Owen, who had, in exchange, handed a small parchment sack to the ragged man. Owen did a brisk trade in that greenish powder called Spanish fly, though this man, his magic dust in hand, seemed content to sit at the bar and cast glances at me and my timepiece.

“I say, fellow, you are looking upon my watch.”

He shook his head. “Wasn’t.”

“Why, I saw it, fellow. I saw you setting larcenous eyes upon my watch. This very one.”

“Ain’t,” he said, looking closely at his drink.

“Don’t you speechify at me, fellow. You were coveting my timepiece.” I held it up by the chain. “Take it if you have the courage. Take it from my hands while I observe you rather than skulking in the dark like a sneak thief.”

He continued to gaze inside his pewter mug as though it were a seeing crystal and he a wizard. Owen whispered a word or two to him, and the skinny gawker moved farther down the bar, leaving me alone. It was what I liked best.

The hands of the watch moved. It was strange how a man could find himself in so morose a state. Only a few days before I had considered Dorland’s pursuit of revenge as a vague amusement. Now I was content to let him kill me. What had changed? I could point to so many things, so many disappointments and failures and struggles, but I knew better. It was that morning, coming from my rooms and seeing the back of a woman half a block ahead of me, walking quickly away. From a great distance, through the tangle of pedestrians, I had seen a honey-brown coat and, above it, a mass of golden-blond hair upon which sat a prim if impractical wide-brimmed hat. For a moment, from nothing more than the color of her hair, from the way her coat hung upon her frame, from the way her feet struck the stones, I had convinced myself that it was Cynthia. I believed, if only for an instant, that after so many years and married though she was to a man of great consequence, Cynthia Pearson knew I now lived in Philadelphia, knew where I lived, and had come to see me. Perhaps, at the last moment, recognizing the impropriety, she lost her courage and scurried away, but she had wanted to see me. She still longed for me the way I longed for her.

It lasted but an instant, this utter, unassailable conviction that it was Cynthia, and then disappointment and humiliation struck me just as hard and just as quickly. Of course it had not been she. Of course Cynthia Pearson had not come to knock upon my door. The idea was absurd, and that I should, after ten years, be so quick to believe otherwise testified to how empty was my sad existence.

When Owen returned, I closed the watch and put it away, and then I drained my drink. “Be so good as to pour another.”

Owen hovered before me, shaking his head, his mug handle of a nose blurring in the light of the oil lamps. “You can hardly keep yourself sitting. Go home, Captain Saunders.”

“Another. I am to die tonight, and I wish to do it good and drunk.”

“I daresay he is already quite drunk,” said a voice from behind me, “but give him another if he likes.”

It was Nathan Dorland. I needn’t look, for I knew the voice.

Owen’s eyes narrowed with contempt, for Dorland was not an imposing figure. Not tall, not broad, not confident or commanding “Unless you’re a friend of Captain Saunders, and from the look of you, I’m guessing you ain’t, I’d say this is none of your concern.”

“It’s my concern, because when this wretch is done with his drink, I mean to take him outside and introduce him to a concept called justice, with which he has been all too unfamiliar.”

“And yet,” I said, “I am familiar with injustice. Such irony.”

“I don’t know your complaint,” said Owen, “and I know the captain well enough to trust you’ve got your cause. Even so, you’ll not harm him. Not here. If you’ve a grievance with him, you must challenge him to a duel, like a gentleman.”

“I have done so, and he has refused my challenge,” Dorland said, sounding very much like a whining child.

“Duels are fought so early in the morning,” I said to Owen. “It’s barbarous.”

Owen looked over at Dorland. “You’ve heard it. He has no interest in fighting you, and you must respect that. This man is a hero of the Revolution, and I owe him a debt for my father’s sake. I’ll defend his right to fight or not fight whom he wishes.”

Reading Group Guide

1. Andrew Maycott believes “The American novel, if it is to be honest, must be about money, not property. Money alone– base, unremarkable, corrupting money” (page 30). Do you agree? By his definition, is The Whiskey Rebels an American novel? Why or why not?

 2. Captain Ethan Saunders implores us, “Look beneath and you may find several things that surprise you” (page 63). If we take Ethan’s advice and look beneath or past his scheming, his impropriety, and his status as a “ruin of a man,” what do we find? How and why are honor and reputation intertwined? 

3. Through her reading, Joan Maycott discovers: “When my empathy for a character led me to weep or laugh or fear for her safety, I spent hours determining by what means the novelist had effected this magic. When I cared nothing for suffering and loss, I dissected the want of craft that engendered such apathy” (page 23). How does David Liss engender empathy or apathy for his characters? Did you sometimes feel both empathy and apathy for the same character? 

4. En route to the Pennsylvania frontier, Phineas tells Joan “The West changes you. . . . I’m what the West made me, and you’ll be what it makes you” (page 84). Is this true? If so, how does the frontier change Joan? Phineas? What does this say about free will and choice in relation to place and circumstance? 

5. Examine the characterizations and the roles of women in The Whiskey Rebels. What similarities do you find? What differences? Are they victims? 

6. Mr. Brackenridge defines himself as a patriot– one who “does not make the principles of his country conform to his own ideas” (page 188). How else is patriotism defined or demonstrated in this book? How would you define patriotism? Who else in The Whiskey Rebels is then a patriot? 

7. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, William Duer, and Joan Maycott have varied theories on the American economy, the Bank of the United States, and the excise tax. For instance, the Bank is either a great boon for the nation, a terrible disaster for the nation, or an opportunity to be exploited. Talk about their differing perspectives in relation to the events of The Whiskey Rebels. Who do you think is right? Do these debates continue today? 

8. Discuss the principle of justice and its relation to revenge, integrity, inequality, and the law in The Whiskey Rebels. How does Joan Maycott justify her revenge against Alexander Hamilton? 

9. Why does Captain Saunders not allow his slave, Leonidas, to purchase his freedom and later “simply neglect[s] to inform” him that he is a free man? What does liberty mean to Captain Saunders? Joan Maycott? Leonidas? Cynthia Pearson? The newly formed United States? 

10. Lavien believes “It is only in the eyes of one another that inequality lies” (page 94). Who else, besides Lavien, serves as a moral arbiter in the novel? What examples of presumed superiority and/or civility can be found in The Whiskey Rebels? What examples can you find of an impossible tension between greed and civility, wealth and humanity? 

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Whiskey Rebels 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 163 reviews.
ctothep More than 1 year ago
Look, I love Liss, and I think I gave his Devil's Co. high marks, but this book falls flat in the last 100 pages. I mean there is just waaaaaaaaaaay tooooooooo much talk about Joan Maycott saying over and over again, ''just wait, we need more time.'' I mean there is just a whole section of pages that probably didnt need to be written, thus, I skipped them. Nobody writes h.f. quite like Liss, and the concept of the book is good, but I dont know. The first 350 pages I loved it. The last 150, not so much
bkrdr63 More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent historical novel set in the late 1780s and 1790s. It was very well researched and detailed. This is a wonderful book for anyone who would love to increase their knowledge of this period while enjoying a great fictional story as well. This book motivated me to actually go and read more history of the beginnings of our country. It really brings history alive and makes it fun to learn.I highly recommend this book especially for those who want some intellectual stimulation along with a great novel!
pjpick More than 1 year ago
I'm not quite sure what I was expecting but this was an entertaining albeit not an easy read--it is definitely not a book in which you can skim or you will certainly be confused. Liss weaves an intricate plot of political and financial intrigue during the post-Revolutionary Whiskey Rebellion. There are two story lines: Ethan Saunders--a very flawed "anti-hero" type, wrongly accused of being a traitor but finds himself on a path that may help restore his reputation while trying to save the country and woman he loves; and Joan Maycott--a woman whose life was turned upside down by financial speculators and who seeks revenge. Although I preferred Maycott's story line I couldn't help but enjoy reading about the lecherous, egotistical, damaged, yet clever character of Saunders more. Liss did a phenomenal job of creating such an interesting protagonist. I also appreciated Liss' depiction of Leonidas, Suanders' slave, who is unlike the other slaves I've encountered in novels; he is intelligent, cultured, and a gentleman. In these recent economic challenging times, a reader of this novel may certainly find him/herself wrought with some emotion in response to the story.
regina77004 More than 1 year ago
When I decided to read this book I thought the Whiskey Rebellion would be central to the plot. Although the excise on whiskey was a prominent aspect of the book the actual rebellion is only briefly mentioned in the end. Liss builds the plot around a theoretical attempt by those affected by the excise tax as the propogators of the panic that ensued after the launch of the Million Bank. I found this book to be in the same vein as The Dante Club: historical figures thrust into the midst of events shrouded in mystery. It was a fun read. There is a lot of good information about Hamilton's banking system, the panic of 1792, and the importance of whiskey in the country's (or at least the West's) early economy
mamamia More than 1 year ago
All of David Liss's books are well written, fun to read, and informative. I would recommend his books to those that like a good story, but also like to read about history as well.
WriteReason More than 1 year ago
This is the second book by David Liss I have read (The Twelfth Enchantment the first), and I plan to put the other titles by this author on my wish list. He has a very unique style of twisting a story in so many directions, with so many possibilities, then unraveling the whole thing with direct intention and purpose. He pulls the reader into the story, and in the imagination you see what he has created in words. The details he chooses to include in his tale is never over or under done. The historical facts, whether true or contrived for the plot, are quite clear and flow with the telling of the story. He knows the historical background to his stories and incorporates the knowledge quite well. Read this book and you will be pleased to declare: "David Liss---One of the Best!"
Anonymous 10 months ago
OctButterfly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved the characters and thought the story was very interesting, it kept me hooked. However, I did have problems following some of the events, I was a little lost as to how some of the characters jumped from one conclusion to another. This made it a little less enjoyable, but overall I definitely recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction.
Romonko on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Liss's historical novels are noted for being very complex, but his writing is so skilled, that the books are very enjoyable. This particular book is set in the United States after the Revolutionary War. Liss peoples his pages with many known historical figures such as Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and many others. And his fictional characters are so real that they appear to have also been there. Liss also concentrates quite heavily on the financial world for his books, and that is certainly the case here. We get a first-hand look at the FIRST American financial panic which occurred in the early months of 1792. It was almost eerie reading this because of what is currently happening in the financial world. The panic of 1792 is eerily similar to what is happening today, even though the credit crunch now can be traced to mortgage loans this time. In 1792 it was scrips for bank stocks. This is such an excellent book. The fictional character of Joan Maycott is a very strong creation. A remarkable and a determined woman who does not forget a wrong done to her or to her loved ones or friends. The pace is quick even though the book is long. I highly recommend this book.
lenoreva on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It¿s difficult to distill everything that¿s going on in this novel into a short summary, but I¿ll try. Basically, it follows two plotlines which merge in the later part of the novel. One is narrated by the disgraced (and drunk) former Revolutionary War spy Ethan Saunders as he seeks to aid a former sweetheart and gets involved in trying to stop a plot against the US Treasury. The other is narrated by Joan Maycott who together with her husband, also a war veteran, try to improve their lot on the frontier by coming up with a new whisky recipe (which proves so popular that the government decides to tax it to raise funds). I¿ll admit that I was a bit reluctant to start this book even though I was intrigued enough to request it from the LT ER program (especially when I have such amazing reading material coming out of my ears at the moment), but once I did, I was completely charmed by the devil-may-care attitude of Ethan and the raw determination and clever machinations of Joan. I found their fictional stories, intertwined with real historical events and personalities, compelling reading. Author David Liss has an impressive talent for making history, even something as potentially boring as 18th century finance, really come alive. Joan sets out to write a novel, but she ends up living one ¿ and a very good one at that.
Cynara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
**Minor spoilers**This is a fine historical thriller. The pacing, cutting back and forth between two stories which eventually converge, is beautifully done. The characters are excellent, though many of them are really 21st century people dropped into an 18th century setting with anachronistic opinions about slavery and women. I did, however, start giggling when our bad guy turned out to be guilty of wife-beating, slum ownership, treason, betrayal, *and* murder; how very convenient it is, that he's responsible for everything bad ever to have happened in our hero's circle of acquaintence. I was engaged by the setting, as I'm quite unfamiliar with this period (well, most periods, actually) in American history. I was not as fascinated by the financial workings that are so important to the plot, so didn't give them much attention, but Liss explains them briefly and clearly.I'd recommend this as a good, casual read, and I'm considering looking into Liss' other work.
tammydotts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For many Americans, the time between the American Revolution and the Civil War is a blur. General U.S. history classes in school paid the period little mind except brief mentions of westward expansion and the presidents between Washington and Lincoln. The Whiskey Rebels takes a closer look at this time, focusing on 1789-1791. The story follows two main characters. Captain Ethan Saunders left the Army of the Potomac in disgrace and, in 1791, finds himself caught up in intrigue swirling around his former fiance, Alexander Hamilton and the Bank of the United States. Joan Maycott and her husband leave Philadelphia for the wilderness around Pittsburgh in 1789 and become heavily involved in distilling whiskey.Liss does an excellent job putting the reader in the time and locales. Readers appreciate the access to historical figures like Hamilton. Liss paints a vivid picture of everyday life for the wealthy, the would-be wealthy, the poor and the desperate.Chapters alternate between Maycott and Saunders. It's a common enough device, but hits some rough patches here. Saunders' story takes place during the latter half of 1791, while Maycott's begins 3 years earlier. As their stories involve some of the same characters, it's difficult at times to keep track of what a supporting character has and hasn't done yet. At the same time, Maycott's struggle to establish a life in the west is often more interesting than Saunders' daily activities.There's a reason for that. Saunders and Maycott eventually meet in 1791, but to keep the chapter sequence going, it may seem that Saunders is killing time until the other character shows up. His story is told on an almost daily basis, while weeks or months go by between Maycott's chapters. The Saunders sequences, however, could not be combined into a long expository meeting between him and Maycott as much of what he does explains to the reader the intricacies of bank speculation at the end of the 18th century. It's necessary, but readers may find themselves preferring one of the two plot lines more than the other until they come together.Saunders and Maycott find themselves on opposing sides of the financial and political future of the country, although Maycott is the only one who knows that until the last few chapters of the novel. Until this point, the reader has been rooting for each character to succeed in his or her private missions. Then it feel necessary to choose a side between two people the reader has come to care about. And Maycott doesn't seem at all like the woman we met in the early pages. The signs and reason for her changing personality are clear in the book, but the positions she and Saunders stand for require a choice between them. A quick perusal of Wikipedia entries on Hamilton, Maria Reynolds, Whiskey Rebellion and William Duer can tell you how history worked itself out without the intervention of the fictional characters. Liss doesn't create an alternate history by changing the outcomes, but presents an alternate catalyst that ties together some of history's disparate threads. By the end of the novel, the reader comes away with a better sense of why Hamilton mattered in the early government.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have never considered myself especially a fan of historical fiction. Nonetheless, quite a few of my favorite novels fall into that category. Honestly, I sort of love these books in spite of their period setting, not because of it. That said, The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss is the best mystery I've read in a long, long time. It's set in a period I know little about--post-Revolutionary War America. Again, to be honest, my knowledge of American history in general doesn't go much beyond what I learned in grammar school. It bored me senseless because they never taught the really interesting stuff in school. Liss's tale of the Whisky Rebellion (which I had literally never heard of) was complex and riveting. Our hero, of sorts, is Ethan Saunders, a thoroughly disgraced former Revolutionary War spy. He was framed as a traitor to the revolution, ultimately causing him to loose the woman he loved, Cynthia Pearson. In the years since, attended by his slave, Leonidas, Saunders has become a penniless, womanizing drunkard. It sounds bad, and it is bad. This man formerly of sterling character has fallen truly low. Still, for all his many flaws, Ethan Saunders is utterly charming. The man charmed my socks right off, and it is his charisma and humor that caused me so much delight throughout this novel. Mr. Liss, I beg you, bring back Ethan Saunders in future novels! The actually mystery is quite convoluted, and a bit difficult to sum up in a few sentences. It has to do with the early American economy, and given my ignorance of history and economics, I had to pay close attention to follow everything that took place. But that, too, was the pleasure of this novel. It was complex. It was challenging. There was a large cast of characters, with some appearances by people even I remember learning about, such as Alexander Hamilton. This is an intricate 500-page mystery. There were twists and turns and surprises aplenty. At no point could I have guessed how it was going to end. So, in all ways, it was everything a mystery should be. In addition, it was a romance, a buddy story, a history lesson, an espionage novel, and more. I was fascinated, for instance, with the relationship between Ethan and Leonidas, which was unlike any I'd read about before. The Whiskey Rebels is highly recommended for readers of all stripes and inclinations.
mdtocci on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
David Liss returns to historical fiction with The Whiskey Rebels, but instead of Europe, he bases this novel in 18th century Pennsylvania right after the Revolution. I had really enjoyed The Coffee Trader, and was a little disappointed that he didn't continue with that story, but I was drawn into this story right from the first two chapters. The story alternates between two main characters, Ethan Saunders who is a disgraced Revolutionary War soldier and Joan Maycott, a woman trying to make it in the Pennsylvania frontier. The novel really is about revenge, and how these two very different characters exact their revenge. In one case, cold, well-planned and methodical, while the other is not even sure who against or why he's taking revenge. There's also some interesting parallels to banking panics in the 1790's to current events in the banking industry. I'm not sure that David Liss did this purposefully since the worst parts of the crisis today happened after he wrote the book. Overall, the book was a great read, although the ending seemed a little rushed. I look forward to his next book.
jpsnow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having enjoyed A Conspiracy of Paper, my expectations for this book were high. David Liss exceeded them. In The Whiskey Rebels, Liss explores the "dark side of liberty," using the now timely topic of a national banking system as the backdrop for his characters' ideology and to provide the means for injustice and redemption. He successfully uses two protagonists, a dishonored Revolutionary War spy and an insightful, determined widow from the Western border. From the trading rooms in lower Manhattan to a collection of muddy cabins in early Pittsburgh, Liss uses a rough set of characters and circumstances as contrast to the honor desired by the two main characters. It's a good mystery. It's a unique combination of economics and storytelling. It's my kind of historical fiction. And it's a political lesson.
bookishbunny on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was skeptical when I first began reading The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss. The two main characters have become something of a cliche in fiction. We have the drunken scamp of an anti-hero and his co-star, the hyper-bookish and ambitious woman whose demand for equality makes her a rarity in her time. Although these basic character profiles hold on to the end of the story, Liss slowly fleshes them out and makes them his own creations.About a third of the way through the book, I found I was much more engaged in the story that expected to be. In doing a little research as I read, I discovered that many of the characters are actual historical figures. I learned about events, people and policies that colored the American experience in those earlier years. All of these were treated by Liss with passion and a good dose of wit and humor, avoiding all dry didacticism. I got the sense that Liss truly enjoyed writing this book, and that enjoyment is passed on to readers.
pelette on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Captain Ethan Saunders, former master spy and hero in George Washington's army, has fallen into the hell of a drunkard's life after being accused as a traitor to the British and being cashiered out of the Army. Joan Maycott and her husband, after trading their savings for a tract of arable frontier land, find they have been swindled.The lives of these two characters intertwine as the author sets their woes against the background of the new America, on the brink of financial insolvency due to the corruption, cronyism, and greed of speculators and politicians. Sound familiar?The story is populated with historical figures, including Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, even President George Washington. Captain Saunders seeks redemption, Mrs. Maycott seeks revenge; in their respective efforts, they meet as respectful adversaries, with one man their common enemy.The characters in the Whiskey Rebels are well presented, (particularly the debauched Captain Saunders, whose sly sense of humor and ironic self-deprecation are quite endearing) and the comparison to today's financial situation surprisingly timely. As in his past novels, author Liss is quite attentive to detail and uses a lot of language, which in this novel becomes rather distracting. The Whiskey Rebellion did occur and was the inspiration for the novel, yet the author makes a timid connection between those actual events and the plot line of his story.
lakingston on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss is a big book and yet I practically read it in one sitting, allowing only the responsibilities of parenting to intervene.Set in the late 1700s, the book is a piece of meticulously researched historical fiction (at times perhaps a little too meticulously, in terms of detail, but that is my only criticism and it's nit-picking, really). I learned a lot about American history leading up to the Whiskey Rebellion (and the presidency of Thomas Jefferson). I also found myself devouring the details of the early US banking system (truly!).But it was the plot and characters of the book (along with beautiful writing) that hooked me from the very first page.The story moves back and forth between two principal (and fictional) characters, Ethan Saunders (a disgraced soldier) and Joan Maycott (a woman who sets out with her husband to settle on the Pennsylvania frontier and becomes a whiskey maker). Both characters are flawed yet intensely compelling. And I fell in love with each of them, as the story moves them towards conflict with each other.The narrative moves smoothly between perspectives and the author speaks convincingly in the voice of each character It's not easy to write in the voice of someone who is very different from ourselves, yet even Joan Maycott is a believable character whose behaviour and dialogue rings true.I had never read anything by David Liss before the Whiskey Rebels, but I have since ordered every other book he has written from the library.Absolutely one of my favourites this year.
CarlaR on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first book that I have read by David Liss. Although I do own a copy of A Conspiracy of Paper I have not yet had a chance to read it. I did not request this book because of the author but because of the time frame involved (post Revolution years). I was amazed at what I was reading. The book centers on two main characters whose stories are told in alternating chapters. One of the main characters, Ethan Saunders, is a disgraced Revolutionary war hero who falls into a mystery that he cannot help but become a part of. As the book goes on Ethan finds that the mystery has nation wide implications. The second main character, Joan Maycott, is a simple woman who has everything she cares about wrenched from her and vows revenge. With each chapter the lives of these two characters become more intertwined.The Whiskey Rebels is a good read from start to finish and at times I had a hard time putting it down. The main characters are both so absorbing that you really don't know who to cheer for. Even the more minor characters are well developed in this book. I was almost sad when I finished the book because I wanted there to be more.Time for me to start reading more David Liss books.
LisaLynne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Whiskey Rebels is obviously well-researched, the writing is of good quality, but I found the story tedious and the pace plodding. I accidentally left the book at the office over the weekend and found I didn't miss it one bit. If you are more interested in the "historical" than the "fiction", this might be a good choice for you, but this just didn't measure up to some of the really compelling historical fiction I've read lately.
Oregonreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is David Liss' fourth book and I think it's his best. In each of his books, he explores a period in history with great accuracy and attention to detail and then brings that era to life with a compelling fictional story line. In his latest book, he looks at early America, just after the end of the Revolutionary war. The Jeffersonians and the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton are struggling for power. Hamilton establishes the US Bank and to raise funds, initiates a tax on whiskey, the only source of income and barter on the western Pennsylvania frontier. This leads to the Whiskey Rebellion. Against this backdrop, he weaves two stories which initially seem totally unrelated but then merge to form one fascinating story. Much of the plot line involves financial chicanery which might be confusing but he does an amazing job of making it clear for the reader. Liss is rapidly becoming one of our best writers and this one is definitely a must read.
Kasthu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
David Liss is the author of the Conspiracy of Paper novels featuring Benjamin Weaver, and I was looking forward to reading his latest novel, The Whiskey Rebels. I was a little disappointed.Set in New York, Philadelphia and western Pennsylvania just after the American Revolution, the story is narrated by Ethan Saunders, a likeable loser once accused of treason, and Joan Maycott, a wife on the Western frontier, whose husband is a whiskey distiller. The novel opens when the husband of an old flame of Ethan¿s disappears. Ethan soon finds himself involved in much more than the case of a missing man: a plot to take down Alexander Hamilton¿s Bank of the United States.While the premise is intriguing, and the first fifty pages had me hooked, it was hard for me to keep my attention on the plot of this novel for very long, and I think that this convoluted story could have been delivered in fewer pages. Joan¿s narrative was unconvincing because her voice wasn¿t really that of a woman. Ethan¿s story was much more convincing. In fact, he pretty much stole the show, and I kept fast-forwarding through Joan¿s story to get to Ethan. On the other hand, Liss¿s prose, like the young Republic itself, is straightforward and to the point. Although this is a pretty decent thriller, all things considered, my expectations weren¿t met.
clif_hiker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Whiskey RebelsDavid LissThis is a marvelous story told from the eyes of two very different people and perspectives. The time is ten years after the end of the Revolutionary War. The place is Philadelphia with forays into New York and the western frontier. The author tells the story on parallel tracks, following the fates and fortunes of an ex-spy, Ethan Saunders, who has been falsely disgraced as a traitor to the revolution; and the wife, Joan Maycott, of a retired soldier turned farmer who travels to the frontier to start a new life, only to find out that they¿ve been swindled.The story comes together when the two protagonists unwittingly join forces to try and stave off economic ruin of the US Bank via corrupt speculators. The two find themselves both working together and at cross-purposes as they discover that have very different goals in mind. Mrs. Maycott is after no less than the ruin of Alexander Hamilton, the founder of the US Bank, while Saunders is trying to rescue his true love¿lost when he was disgraced and married to an unsavory man who has own greedy part to play.The story has very good parts, as in the description of the frontier and the use of whiskey has a currency of trade. The Maycotts overcome being swindled and abused by discovering a new way of producing a more flavorful whiskey, which then leads to more abuse and ultimately violence. The characterization of Saunders and the men around him is very good. Leonidas, Saunders¿s slave, is a remarkable figure; and plays an important part in the resolution of the story. I found the story to be a bit draggy when it came to describing the financial doings of the day. But perhaps these lessons were necessary to the story as ultimately the doings of the bankers and financiers determined whether the US Bank stood or failed. Mr. Liss added a final chapter to the story in which Mrs. Maycott finally took her revenge on Hamilton via Aaron Burr¿a historically accurate ending¿ but a bit contrived I thought. All in all I very much enjoyed the description of the early days of America, both in the cities and on the frontier. Men haven¿t changed very much over the years. Greed, arrogance, fortitude, determination, and revenge are human qualities, which will never change. A good book, and definitely recommended for anyone interested in the history of the early years of the United States.
ddelmoni on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
David Liss has been on my "to read" list for quite some time. After reading The Whiskey Rebels, he's sky rocketed to the top of that list. Though some earlier reviewers say this "is not his best", you could have fooled me. 18th century America is not my favorite period in historical fiction, but colonial Philadelphia and the factors leading up to the Whiskey Rebellion would have grabbed my attention. Freshman Pennsylvania history in high-school and Colonial history II in college (both in Pennsylvania) came flooding back to me, this time, in a good way. Liss' has wonderfully built period atmosphere, compelling characters, and an intreging story full of suspense, all of which is enhanced by flawless research. He's also hit everything I look for in historical fiction -- a story based on history I know little about (or have forgotten) that I can get lost in! I hit the jackpot with The Wiskey Rebels and am really looking forward to reading his earlier works.
Capfox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Getting a historical financial crisis to seem large and important to one's readers can't be an easy task. People have a hard time following all the economic bits even when it concerns them now. So it's much to David Liss's credit that he pulls it off so well in the Whiskey Rebels. In fact, to place a story in that time period, soon after the Constitution of the US was ratified, is a big task, since so many people are familiar with it, and would probably think they know what to expect.Whatever I expected, it wasn't this story, as well as it was carried out; it was a very pleasant surprise. Liss tells his tale mostly in the early 1790s in Pennsylvania, at the urbane eastern end in Philadelphia and the wild frontier around Pittsburgh (weird to think about, that). We've got two first person narrators here, with somewhat different writing styles for the pair: Ethan Saunders, a discredited former spy for the colonies who's now just drinking and womanizing in Philly, and Joan Maycott, a woman patriot who moves out to the frontier with hopes for a good future and a great American novel.Maycott's pretty modern-seeming, but given the frontier period, it's not so hard to buy that a woman could have as much clout as she does for the time. Her character is interesting, and so is her part of the story, but the Ethan Saunders side, much more of a mystery, appealed to me more. Saunders is looking first into the disappearance of his ex-fiance's husband, and then gets embroiled in a greater financial plot, with Alexander Hamilton and some other real figures of the day in there, too.The writing is solid, particularly for the Saunders side (his behavior when drunk and how it's rationalized is particularly amusing), and the characters are very vivid. Both the leads are very easy to empathize with, along with most of the supporting cast, one way or another. Also, the plot drives along nicely, although the alternating chapters between narrators format means that sometimes you do get a bit thrown. It's pretty easy to get through, though.The minuses are mostly those of pacing and some stylistic points. The pacing, in particular, has the whole ending come pretty fast, and then nothing after to wrap things up except a quick epilogue. I'd have liked a bit more there.Anyway, it was a very enjoyable read, both for the mystery and the characters, along with the history lesson. This one's worth a shot, I'd say, for adventure and for history buffs.