Suggest some good Revolutionary reading

American Revolution, that is, and colonial history. As I’ve mentioned in other threads, my mom and I were up at Colonial Williamsburg last week and realized, uh, just how much stuff we don’t know anymore. The Williamsburg tours were really great refreshers (especially the Capitol tour) but we were looking for some good general references.

I guess I’m looking for two things -

  • a good, readable overview of that period in time in America - what’s up in the colonies, causes of the Revolution, Founding Fathers, etc., preferably with not a huge emphasis on the military details
  • other related books - are there any particularly great biographies? Excellent social histories?

Incidentally, does anybody else feel like Washington is a hard man to get to know? You feel you kind of get, say, Franklin and Jefferson and Lafayette and even Benedict Arnold (they did some really good stuff with him in Williamsburg - overall I was incredibly impressed with their non-simplified, non-Hollywoodized history) but Washington seems cold and boring to me. But then you look back and there’s that enormous Cult of Mourning Washington at the time, so obviously they had some connection with him, one would assume beyond the Father Of His Country thing. Right?

If you’d like to learn more about Washington, a good popular biography is:

His Excellency by Joseph Ellis.

Ellis also wrote Founding Brothers, which is likewise a good read.

Also, I’ve heard good things about Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment by Garry Wills, but I haven’t read it.

I’m a fan of The Crucible of War, which explores the Seven Years/French & Indian War as a precursor to rebellion.

I really enjoyed 1776 by David McCullough.

Also highly recommended: Founding Myths by Ray Raphael.

Any opinions on the Oxford series? (The Revolutionary War volume is called Glorious Cause.)

I love Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

Mayflower is an outstanding account of the folks that came over on the boat. What happened in the 50 or so years after they got here has direct bearing on the path to revolution.

I’d also highly recommend Benjamin Franklin for some inside looks at the people and times, and the part that this remarkable man played in our history.

The First Salute, by Barbara Tuchman. Dramatic and readable.


I enjoyed Rise to Rebellion, another fine Jeff Shaara novel.

I also came in to recommend Founding Brothers. It does a really good job of illustrating the political and personal relationships between the Big Six: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison & Hamilton.

The Glorious Revolution
(Sorry got to go, two minutes on public library clock.)
Good book.

We did the Williamsburg tour a few years ago, and one of the “speaker/actors” was Patrick Henry (long my favorite founder). His recommendation for Henry:

Son of Thunder

It is interesting in that it shows the Virginia team and how they interfaced together, who was rich & powerful, and how specifically Henry came to be the man that he was. Very good read, IMHO.

The Library of America has an excellent volume entitled The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence that is a chronological series of letters, journal entries, official reports, and other primary sources. It’s really more interesting than it sounds.

It includes materials from everyday citizens as well as major military and government figures, and it gives plenty of ink to the British viewpoint as well. It was fascinating reading – really made that period come alive, and the book provided me with an entirely different, and more well-rounded, perspective on the American Revolution.

The war in the South is often given short shrift in histories of the Revolution (which is odd, since the tide of war was turned in South Carolina). A good study of the war in the Southern states is The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas.

The book includes a lot of military detail (which I know the OP doesn’t like) but it’s a good read.

Since by last posting I’ve read two more books about the American Revolution. One thing that strikes me is how terrorism was preferable to tyranny.

Another point learned is the true nature of tar and feathering. While waterboarding is less lasting, it is no less heinous.

I’d second both Tamerlame and spoke on their choices, The Cruicible of War and* The Road to Guilford Courthouse*. Be warned the latter book contains a lot of very opinionated statements along with some excellent field and academic research.

For an excellent study on a little known facet of pre-Revolutionary history, try Breaking Loose Together, on the Regulator Rebellion in North Carolina in 1770. This was an armed struggle between Scots-Irish colonists from the Piedmont and the Anglo-Scots colonial authorities.