Reviewed by Amy B. on October 31, 2012
James Aitken, aka John the Painter, was a Scottish-born domestic terrorist who served the cause of the American Revolution by attempting to burn down the royal dockyards in Britain. He was 24 years old when he was tried and hanged for his crimes, and his body was gibbeted and hung on display near the Portsmouth harbor. The author describes Aitken as “a sad hero”, a destitute Scotsman with no prospects who could find no relief either at home or abroad, and eventually attempted to immortalize himself by instigating great acts of destruction, all of which failed miserably (although conservative leaders in Britain found that it was much easier to pass anti-American and anti-foreigner laws after Aitken’s attempts). The strength of this biography is its timeliness, and the simplicity with which a reader can trace parallels between modern terrorists and Aitken’s situation, motivations and the unintended consequences of terrorist acts.