This is a very entertaining and thought-provoking history of the American War of Independence. It has a wide coverage and a strong point-of-view to put over. However, Bicheno is a contrarian enragé who enjoys, I suspect, the opportunity to gore oxen and especially sacred cows. Few of the American participants escape without several blows from his doughty cudgel, and while he is just as blunt with the British they have been fair game for generations. Sam Adams is characterised as the Abu Nidal of the Revolution in a witty move that is sure to annoy many and hurt some. For those of us not prepared to take anything on trust Bicheno's view encourages one to reconsider one's present understanding. However, for many Americans the opinions are going to be hard to swallow and the method of delivery deeply antagonistic. I have no horse in this race but it made me go back and re-read, and more importantly, re-think the way I see the war. For that alone I recommend it.
The American war was no stranger to spin, the English Civil war being a useful primer for both sides, and some of the hard opinions of individuals expressed by Bicheno are based on one version of a story that may have two sides. I noted in passing that Simon Girty is tarred with the torture of Colonel Crawford (which one eye witness stated he argued against)and Lord Dunmore with selling his ex-slave unit back into slavery after the war (which is also subject to counter claims). At this remove of time and distance we cannot know, but the the versions used clearly indicate a greater moral turpitude than the versions not used.
on 24 February 2011
I missed the BBC TV series but, having read this author's book The Razor's Edge about the Falklands War, I wasn't going to miss out on this, and it doesn't disappoint. Written in an equally lively and slighlty irreverent style it gives a much more balanced (if you're British) view of the American war of Independence. A fair few American sacred cows get slaughtered along the way as the myths of the American revolution get matched up against historical fact and are mostly found wanting.
on 6 October 2003
This is a book that really needs to be read in the United States. Unfortunately, I suspect it won't be. (I notice that it is already out-of-print in America.) The information in it wouldn't be particularly shocking to most academics, but the book would be an eye-opener for the general public. Personally, I enjoy Mr. Bicheno's wit and sarcasm. However, his method may not be the best way to gain "the hearts and minds" of the unconverted. For example, here is Mr. Bicheno on John Paul Jones: "His later career included service in the navy of the freedom-loving Catherine the Great of Russia, finally fleeing St. Petersburg to evade an allegedly fabricated accusation of rape. What may have been his remains were....deposit(ed) in a magnificent crypt at the Annapolis Naval Academy. Not many other career criminals have been similarly honoured." Or here is the author on Thomas Jefferson: "...always inhabiting a world of soaring rhetoric that impinged upon reality only in places..." Again, I find this sort of thing amusing - but I was already one of the converted. Mr. Bicheno would have done better to present the facts in a cool manner, but he seems to enjoy bull-baiting. In any case, he is usually right on-the-mark. There was plenty of bumbling and humbug on both sides, trading with the enemy, etc. This was one of the least necessary revolutions in history, when you look at the freedom and rights the colonists possessed. And the hypocrisy of people pontificating about human rights, when said people were busy oppressing blacks and exterminating Native Americans, is obvious. Mr. Bicheno does occasionally get carried away with his rhetoric: at one point he states that Benjamin Franklin, in 1777-1778, intentionally prolonged the conflict so he could continue to benefit from his profiteering. Even I found that a shade too cynical. On the other side of the coin, the author states that one reason Benedict Arnold switched sides was because he was disgusted by the rebels forming an alliance with the Roman-Catholic French. It seems that Mr. Bicheno can himself be a trifle starry-eyed. Arnold was disgusted...with what he felt was a lack of recognition of his (admittedly substantial) services, and with people of inferior abilities leap-frogging over him via political string-pulling. Of course, as with most traitors, money also had a little something to do with his change of heart.....Still, Mr. Bicheno is mostly correct concerning motivations and actions. As he rightly points out, this was really the first American Civil War. There were just as many Loyalists as Rebels, and a large percentage of the people were sitting on the fence, waiting to see which side would come out on top. The book is full of wonderful colour plates and there are numerous, excellent maps (35, to be precise). One caveat concerning the book is that it is not intended to be the starting-point for someone reading about the Revolution. It presupposes that you have some knowledge of the battles and the political background. Indeed, considering the fact that the book is only 260 pages long and so many battles (minor as well as major) and troop movements are mentioned, the novice would wind up being very confused by the military aspects of the book. But, for the person who wants to build on their existing knowledge of the military and, especially, the political developments, this is a good, solid addition to the genre.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which from the outset makes it clear that its author is determined to cut through the mire of mythology and misrepresentation surrounding the American War of Independence.
It is probably advisable to have a fair knowledge of the period and topic before reading this as it is primarily a military history - which should be pretty obvious, as this was published to accompany the excellent BBC TV series presented by the late - and much missed - Richard Holmes, who provides an introduction to Bicheno`s book.
Bicheno is actually quite even-handed in his criticism throughout his narrative; though much of his attention is given over to correcting the - often unquestioned - American accounts that have stood as fact for decades, (which will inevitably have American readers up in arms - yet again), he doesn't let the British off lightly either though, exposing the weaknesses of individuals and the running of military and political affairs under a system where privilege and title, rather than ability, were the determining factors of how such things were handled.
The truths about both the military aspects of the revolutionary movement and the grass-roots political support they did and didn`t have are mercilessly examined; the influence of the "slaveocracy" and - more importantly, the French; George Washington`s military failings and (political) willingness to pass the buck when it was expedient for him to do so - all are revealed warts and all. Washington, - for all his faults - was a brave and inspiring leader and, admirably, Bicheno does give credit to those - often secondary characters - on both sides of the conflict who courageously and effectively won victories or behaved with honour on both sides.
Bicheno`s writing is rather wordy, but his dry wit and occasionally waspish sense of humour make his narrative flow very well; I found once I had adjusted to his style this was - for a history book anyway - a bit of a page-turner.
I passionately believe in constant discussion, debate and where necessary, the revision of history based on scholarly research; If this book has set a cat amongst the pigeons I applaud the author for doing so; no one should shy away from unpleasant truths or deliberate untruths about their country's past - greater understanding is only possible if questions are asked and those truths are faced.
This is a very good read, and an important book that both American and British readers should welcome - if only for the potential debate it raises.
It's a serious oversight that the TV series isn't readily available in the UK on DVD; perhaps the BBC will rectify that someday...
on 28 July 2008
firstly I would recommend everyone visit the review site on Amazon.com It would appear that this book has got up a few noses among our American friends. I'm guessing that when dearly held beliefs are in anyway challenged a strongly negative reaction is provoked. secondly, this book goes right to the heart of the American national psyche and why they are currently so unpopular with the rest of the World. Naturally all Countries histories are to some extent built apon myth. America would do well to recognise this. Just as, for example, Britain has had to do. Only then will they see themselves for what they really are, just as grubby and unprincipled as the rest of us, not some Hollywood fantasy hero. This exellent book is a good start and I recommend it to everyone.
on 26 August 2003
Many books have been written about the American War of Independence, but few have been written as a general history but from a British stand-point. There have been a few over recent years, but Mackesy's masterful "The War for America" remains the standard work on the British strategy during the war, the problems of logistics and, even more particularly, the political meddling.
In Hugh Bicheno's book, these problems are included, but, of course, it remains difficult to understand why the War was lost when there are, in fact, so few full-scale defeats for British forces on the battlefields. Mr Bicheno goes a long way to explain his view that the war was part of a much greater conflict against France and its allies (in this case Spain and the Netherlands), whilst the war in America was, to a great extent, a civil war, with considerable numbers of Americans fighting for the Crown.
He shows, as a result, that many of the conceptions about the war, on both sides of the Atlantic, are mistaken, and have been continuing for over 200 years.
The battle desciptions are excellent,with very fine maps and, again, as in Mr Bicheno's previous books, great care appears to have been taken in placing vast amounts of information, which might otherwise have halted the narrative, in appendices.
As a companion study to the recent TV series, it works very well, and, of course, the interesting point will be the reaction in America to a book which will, perhaps, make them question long-held beliefs. As far as the Old World is concerned, the book is a very welcome study on a conflict which retains aq fascination after 220 years.
on 28 August 2012
Despite what it says on the cover this is not a general history of the American Revolution, it is a military history of the American Revolution. If you try reading this book without any previous knowledge of the War of Independence you will be mightily confused.
Some years ago I remember watching the Richard Holmes documentary series which accompanied this book and it was a lot clearer in explaining the causes and effects of the war. The book it seems has instead been used to make one specific arguement - that the story many Americans are told about the founding fathers is a myth.
Rebels and Redcoats puts forward several very convincing arguements with plenty of facts to back them up that show that to this day there is an ongoing propoganda exercise to portray the rebels in the War of Independence as being morally righteous paragons of virtue. It does an excellent job of discussing the real history and the reasons it has been turned into a one sided myth.
However what Rebels and Redcoats does not do is clearly explain the history of the Revolutionary War, its causes, the people involved, how the war developed and the consequences of the conflict. There are some excellent maps and discussions of the battles but you need to already know the history of the war before you can make sense of the arguements in this book. As a result, although I agree with the points made by the author, I can only give the book three stars.
on 14 October 2013
At times the author over eggs the pudding, but blimey he really turns the perceived reasons and the course of this war on its head. No sacred cows are left with their dignity intact. It is highly provocative stuff and it goes to prove that there is always more than one way to view history.
on 26 April 2016
I was really looking forward to reading this book on this fascinating period of history.
I don't feel it lived up to the hype, there were lots of assertions but not enough evidence to back them up for me, no footnotes.
on 13 July 2003
What can I say, this books is a must for everyone who wants to learn about the truth of the american revolution. It is about time an honest account has been written. I often complained that the majority of books and accounts were so american bias it was difficult to construct and argument and one felt obliged to accept the american viewpoint, that the british were wrong. They were not and this books sheds some light on why the conflict took place. For example it sheds light on the so called massacre at lexington, and the little know fact that the rebels has cannons big enough there to lay siege to boston. Once this account has seen the light of day, it changes the context of the battle and the ensuing war. Also intriging is the proposition that "patriots" planned this war years before and it make sense in regards to the weapons available to the colonists. Basically they got them from the french.
Read the book with an open mind, read it will a critical mind. There is some things I disagree with like the number of blacks in both armies and maybe a little british in its bias, or is this way thinking due to my brainwashing of the american standard viewpoint on this conflict.
Conclusion: Great read, well research, and it is about time something like this came to the fore.