Samuel Adams, the most important founding father in the period before independence, has finally found his popular biographer in Stacy Schiff. To tell the tale of Adams’s political activism in Massachusetts and beyond is largely to narrate the colonial protest and resistance movement, and Schiff, a former editor at Simon & Schuster whose previous biographies include Cleopatra: A Life (2010) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (1999), does this with remarkable wit and grace. By the time independence was declared in 1776, Adams had risen from an impoverished and failed tax collector to the principal leader of the patriot cause in New England, a leader of the Boston Town Meeting, a member (and longstanding clerk) of the Massachusetts Assembly, and a delegate to the Continental Congress. Although his “real whig” sentiments would prove less useful in governing than in opposition, he returned to Massachusetts to serve in its constitutional convention, then in its Senate, before ending his career as lieutenant governor and ultimately governor of the Bay State. Not bad for someone who had been, in Schiff’s words, “a perfect failure until middle age.”

The key to Adams’s success as a leader of the patriot cause was his profound awareness of the importance of publicity and controlling the flow of information. A tireless essayist,

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