I had never read a thing by Herman Melville and couldn't have told you anything he wrote except for Moby Dick before I took a class about him. I've really come to enjoy his writing. If all you've experienced of Melville is Moby-Dick, you might be surprised by his other writings. This book is a straight forward narrative of the life of a Revolutionary War soldier. It's based on a autobiography of a real soldier but Melville does fictionalize it and loves to add in historical characters.
Israel Potter starts with Potter's life before the Revolution and leads up to his service in the army. He's captured and sent to England and that's where the action really begins. He begins trying to escape and has amazing adventures, including being used as a spy by Benjamin Franklin. He finally makes it back to America but I'll stop there so I won't spoil anything.
This story is straight forward and easy to read. It's entertaining and enjoyable. Melville wrote it because he needed money and soldier narratives were all the rage. He seems, however, to have had several points to make as well. One of the points seems to be how easy it is to build up almost a cult around some of the early leaders of the country and he seems to be asking if they were really as wonderful as they seem. He also seems to be commenting on how we tend to think of soldiers as immediate heroes whether we know them or not. These points are subtle however, and do nothing to keep you from enjoying this as a straight forward adventure. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone wanting a taste of Melville without plunging into Moby-Dick.