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3.4 out of 5 stars9
3.4 out of 5 stars
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Given the quality of the other volumes I have read in this outstanding series, I had high expectations for this one: I wanted context, succinct bios, story, and analysis. Unfortunately, this volume fails to deliver enough on every single count, and yet it is full of extraneous detail. Rather than surrendering to a rich narrative, I had to struggle to follow the author's logical jumps, to fill in the many crucial details he seemed to assume the reader would know, and to sort through the oddly incomplete (yet overly long) descriptions of military maneuvers or political machinations.

The book begins well, with an explanation of the political context in both the US and Britain. In the wake of the French-Indian War, the young king (George III) had decided to station a permanent military garrison in the colonies, which his subjects were supposed to finance. This added a presence and level of control over the colonists' economic affairs, who while loyal subjects were accustomed to independence and a wide latitude to manage their lives in the way they saw fit. Given the flawed personality of GIII, the British attitude remained paternal, condescending as to children, and arrogantly impenetrable to contrary points of view. This led not just to a clash, but to a comedy of errors. GIII imposed a number of unpopular taxes and acts, provoking increasingly provocative protests in the colonies and heavy-handed responses from Britain that only made things worse. Violence led to violence, some fiery American radicals expressed their ideals in fabulously articulated polemics that gave life to ideals and a plan for action, and events moved in ways no one expected.

Unfortunately, I simply did not get a feel for when and why things happened the way they did. For me, this is a very basic failure of narrative. Perhaps even worse, while it was easy to get lost in the details, the cause-and-effect reasons behind certain fundamental issues (e.g. opposition to the Stamp Act) do not clearly emerge. It was frustrating, even boring after a while. The analysis is too sparse, especially in the beginning.

Once independence is declared, the core of the book is a military story. For me, this section was far too long and mired in excessive details of minor engagements, to the point that I began to skip them. Once again, the narrative failed to keep my interest and I constantly found my mind wandering. After the war is won, the book shifts into a kind of summary of events, oddly lacking in detail, even rushed. There is one chapter on the failure of the confederated period, one on the constitutional convention that refers to all the issues as if pre-ordained, and a very brief one on the ratification fight. It makes for a lopsided reading experience, to say the least. Finally, very few of the personalities come through. Most of the biggies like Washington and Adams are covered, but Hamilton is a mere shadow, Burr is barely mentioned - the list of the neglected goes on.

At the very end, there is a good section of analysis that sums up much of the author's perspective. It is well worth the work to get there, but it is nonetheless a long slog. That being said, I found the tone to be overly sentimental, referring to ideals that were supposed to serve as beacons to humanity in spite of the fact that most of them came from slave owners who recognized their own hypocrisy, such as Jefferson but also the fascinating Patrick Henry. It serves up a triumphalist story that implies a direct link to the present yet fails to add any critical perspective whatsoever. This too, in my eyes, is a significant failure for such a massive and ambitious narrative.

I was hoping that this book would serve as a kind of capstone to a long period of reading I have been doing on this period. I expected the book to recapitulate what I already knew, add new layers of detail and interpretation, and offer an intimate dialogue with a great academic. Both Battle Cry of Freedom and What Hath God Wrought (other volumes in the series) did this for me to complete satisfaction, but this volume did not. I can barely bring myself to give this 3 stars and frankly cannot recommend it.
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on 3 December 2011
I must admit I got a bit bored with this book towards the end. It is quite readable for a while but then I started to notice it was repeating itself quite a lot. This became unbearable in the final few chapters and I was glad when I finally managed to finish it.

Like all the books in this series, the subject matter is potentially vast and therefore the points that are explored in detail have to be carefully chosen. I'm not a huge fan of reading about all the ins and outs of battles and I enjoyed the way they were handled here, with just enough detail to show why a particular side won and a good deal of talk about the overall ramifications of the principal battles and the various campaigns in general.

I was a but surprised that more wasn't made of the French involvement in the revolution but it is an American history series so I suppose allowances have to be made on that score but there is precious little about Franklin's diplomatic machinations for example.

As an overview of the revolution it's worth reading but don't expect it to be plain sailing throughout.
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on 23 September 2014
This book is a bit of a curate's egg. While it is good on the general narrative it is aweful on analysis. I got the strong impression that the author is far too close to his subject matter. His "patriots", read scoundrels, can do no wrong. They pass resolutions at illegal or inquorate meetings, intimidate any opposition with acts of violence, destroy property of anyone thought to be "an enemy of liberty", assault officers of the Crown, to which they express allegiance and burn His Majesty's ships, to categorise some of their patriotic exuberance. Meanwhile the British, sometimes, the English, as the author can't make up his mind, can do no right. According to Mr Middlekauf they are so profoundly incompetent that it makes one wonder how the Redcoats got their boots on in the morning.
I'm sure that the author is genuinely trying to convey the attitudes of the patriots but does so to the complete detriment of the loyalists, who are even more reviled than the British/English. There is no attempt at all to examine the view from the other side. The restraint shown by the British is described only as an essential background to the mayhem and destruction meted out by the "sons of liberty". And the reason for all of this grief: a penny in the pound. Hardly Glorious is it?
Time and time again the author's conclusions are drawn in spite of his evidence, which made me feel like I was reading a book written by a "Jekyll and Hyde". While the author maintains that everyone was surprised by the Declaration of Independence, the narrative convinces this reader that it was a foregone conclusion.
If the intention was to convince the reader that America was born out of noble and high ideals, then it failed miserably for me. Yet, ironically, it did explain much that is wrong with the United States today, dominated as it is by small town lawyers, religious zealotry, a conservative press, violence and an aversion to paying one cent in the dollar. These are the principles that gave it birth and to which it remains true.
More of an indictment than eulogy.
A far better reas is George Sydney Fisher's The True History of the American Revolution covers the same ground in half the book.
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on 19 August 2009
i know this is superficial, but although the book itsef is brilliant, it is SO huge it is physically hard to read. it is undoubtedly written for students of American history, and as such is wonderful, but to read for pleasure, which is what i wanted, makes it hard work. How shallow!
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on 13 May 2010
I have to be honest that although this book is far reaching in its research of the wars of independence it is very dry reading and in my opinion not very well written taking into consideration the size of the work. I found the text clumsy at times and too descriptive-almost like a list of facts-rather then an engaging sense of drama and adventure, which is what you need when approaching a volume of this size. I also fear that the author, after the intial chapters, manifests the same old American jingosim and discrads any notion of the reasons behind rebellion being allied to humuan greed (The beginnings of land speculation and a free market)

It always makes me wonder how the Americans can wax lyrical about their noble reasons for so called liberty from British Tyranny when so many indigenous Indians were basically driven from the land, ripped off by colonialists in the inetrests of aggressive land expansion by the so called freedom fighters...but the author does manage to paint a picture of the chaos, incompetence and shock of the whole muddle that was The American wars of Indpendence. Cetainly not the best book on the saga though.
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on 2 July 2011
The Author trudges through the events to the bitter end. Where some facts are in short supply we are given the benefit of repetition of others. He shares with the reader his observations on human nature and explores the motivation of people who sustained the battles of the Revolution. His qualifications for this speculation seem a little shaky while he informs us that Benjamin Franklin was immune to flattery for the reason that he was a sophisticated man; completely misunderstanding that Franklin, as a Quaker,was committed to a self discipline of simplicity and modesty. Although he knows something of the religious background to the century he seems to know little or nothing of the Enlightenment or the philosophical ideas of the period.
If you complete the reading of the book you may award yourself the satisfaction of consuming one of those school text books for which we were unable to summon an appetite in our youth.
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on 6 May 2011
A bit too detailed, even for someone with a reasonable interest in history, but nevertheless and excellent book. All you ever wanted to know about the period - and much you probably don't care about, but which adds to the overall story...
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on 15 January 2016
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on 12 April 2014
the best book i have ever read on the revelution and i have read a few .with an interest in American history
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