Recommend me a good book about the American Revolution

What I’m after is something that does for the American Revolutionary War what James McPherson’s Battl Cry of Freedom does for the American Civil War. If such a book exists.

What I liked about that book was - it gave plenty of background (important for non-Americans); about a third of the book dealt with events that occurred long before a shot was fired, but help to explain how things got to such a pass that war became inevitable. Even when the fighting started, the book doesn’t concentrate solely on the military campaigns, but also talks about stuff like the Confederate attempts to gain foreign recognition, the anti-war movements in the North, etc. And of course, it mentions the major battles in reasonable detail as well. It ends a bit abruptly (why nothing on the assassination of Lincoln, other than noting that it happened?) but nothing’s perfect.

Is there anything like that dealing with the Revolution?

(I’m going to bed now, I’ll read your replies, if any, in the morning.)

As you’re probably aware, Battle Cry of Freedom is part of a series, the Oxford History of the United States. You may wish to check out The Glorious Cause, by Robert Middlekauff, which is the volume in that series dealing with the Revolutionary period.

I have to say, though, that I didn’t find Middlekauff’s writing nearly as compelling as that of McPherson. In fact, I’d rate it as the weakest of any of the volumes published in the series to date. So I guess that’s a pretty half-hearted recommendation.

The series format no doubt explains the synoptic treatment of Lincoln’s assassination, as that will tie in better with the volume on Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. However, since Oxford has been working on their series for 20 years, and it is still less than half published, I have to wonder if any of us will live to read that volume!

I rather favor Rebels and Redcoats… and the companion volume Redcoats and Rebels. Can’t find my copy, because someone borrowed both of them permanently.

I was impressed by A Leap In The Dark by John Ferling. The book delves into the political background of the Revolutionary War–not just the battles on the fields but the battles in the state houses, too. A very compelling read.

If you pair Ferling’s book with A Short History of the American Revolution by James L. Stokesbury (a good, straightforward overview history of the subject), you should wind up with a pretty good understanding of the period and the events.

I’m always on the lookout for a good history of the Revolution (my favorite period of American history), so I too am eager to hear what others would recommend.

Check out 1776 by David McCullough (spelling?), excellent!

Addendum: you might also want to read Crucible of War by Fred Anderson. That book actually is a history of the Seven Years War (French and Indian War), but the author goes into a lot of detail about how that experience shaped the colonists view of the English and themselves, and how that set the stage for the (arguably, by his account, inevitable) Revolution.

Winners of the Pulitzer Prize for history:

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, by Bernard Bailyn
Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, by Esther Forbes
The War of Independence, by Claude H. Van Tyne
The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation, by Charles Howard McIlwain

George Washington’s War by Robert Leckie is the best and most readable general/popular/introductory history I’ve come across. It covers the entire span of the war (and of course the issues that led to it from the pamphlets of John Locke to the Boston Tea Party (there isn’t a shot fired until 100 pages into it). As with all of Leckie’s works (he writes popular histories of American wars), it centers largely on the people involved and in spite of its title it doesn’t revolve around George Washington. It devotes sections to the lives of Ben Franklin, King George III, Marquis de Lafayette, etc., and is called “G. Washington’s War” because that’s how most Americans think of the Revolution. (My only complaint on this as a general history is that it has almost no illustrations aside from a few maps, but then the Internet will supply anyone or anyplace you’re curious to see a picture of.)

The exact opposite is Liberty! by Thomas Fleming, which is copiously and beautifully illustrated but far more an exercise in flowery prose than history. (It’s the companion volume to a documentary series.) Still, it’s out-of-print but available used through ebay, and amazon merchants and usually cheap (I’ve seen it for $1.00), and it’s well worth that for the illustrations and the reproductions of pamphlets.

Meant to link to the DVD of the documentary series in the above- here it is (haven’t checked its Netflix availability).

Thanks for these recommendations, I will check them out.

Gone with the wind


I second this nomination. Although I am peeved at Ferling for bringing to my attention this frustrating anecdote. So, if you’re reading this thread, you’re probably a history geek, but in case you don’t know, Alexander Hamilton was George Washington’s aide during the Revolutionary War, and Hamilton pretty much adored Washington BUT he mentions in some letter that there are some things about Washington that bug him, and he’ll save it for another letter.

Which is lost to posterity. ARGH! I am SO CURIOUS. And we’ll never know what Washington’s annoying habits were.

I believe he sucked air through his teeth when they were loose.

No, no cite, distant memory that popped up when you said ‘Washington’ and ‘annoying habit’.

Washington also was reluctant to let Hamilton have a combat command because Hamilton had become invaluable to him as an aide de camp. They had an argument over it and Hamilton angrily resigned from his staff, and won glory at both Trenton and Yorktown. He and and GW reconciled, of course, and AH later served as GW’s first Secretary of the Treasury. From Ron Chernow’s excellent recent bio of Hamilton, it’s clear that GW and AH had the same kind of father-son relationship that GW later enjoyed with Lafayette, but AH seemed to later resent GW’s insensitivity to his ambition.

The Fleming book Liberty!, which Sampiro mentions, is an excellent one-volume illustrated book on the Revolution. The American Heritage book on the war, which I believe is simply called The American Revolution, is also good, but somewhat dated now. McCullough’s 1776 is a pretty good overview of that crucial year.

I’ve heard very good things about Benson Bobrick’s Angel in the Whirlwind, John Ferling’s Almost a Miracle, and David Hackett Fisher’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington’s Crossing, but have read none of them myself.

I enjoyed Washington’s Crossing by David Cackett Fischer when I read it last year. It’s about the lead up to Washington crossing the Delaware and the battles of Trenton and Princeton. It was an easy read, but very interesting.

OK, I’ve ordered “George Washington’s War” by Leckie. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a UK edition, so I’ve got a week’s wait.

Thanks again for all the suggestions.

To those mentioned I would add:

The Battle for New York, by Barnet Schecter
First Salute, by Barbara Tuchman

A good book that talks about America’s attempts at diplomacy with England to prevent the war, and then with France to gain their support against the British is Benjamin Franklin, by Walter Isaacson. While the book is about Franklin, in many eyes, he was the voice of America in those times.

Damn. I just checked, and it’s on the shelf at my local library. You must be in the boonies or something. I’m going to pick this one up at the end of this week.

I’ve been reading a lot of Tuchman lately. She’s brilliant. You can’t go wrong with any book by her.