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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 November 1998
The Glorious Cause is comprehensive and complete, extremely ambitious in its scope. It is painstakingly footnoted, documenting a wealth of sources of both primary and secondary research. It is a military history as well as a political history, and wanders into social commentary as well. Middlekauff does a masterful job of explaining how pivotal the French and Indian War was in American History as it forced England to re-examine her relationship to her American colonies. Prior to that war the colonies had not provided England with the wealth that imperial nations desire from their colonies, but they had not really cost her anything either. But that war caused England to realize that money would have to be spent to defend her stronghold in the New World if she intended to keep it. That looked to be an expensive proposition, making it necessary to find a way to make the colonies produce revenue to offset the expense. Attempts at taxation without representation, a fundamental right of Englishmen, caused colonists to examine their status as citizens of their mother country, leading them to decide that they were not Englishmen at all. Middlekauff also gives us a glimpse of heroes of the pre-revolutionary period and shows our "patriots" as radicals and "revolutionaries," a far more accurate depiction of the men who were able to bring about so monumental a change in the course of history. It also shows the human side of the American army, and how Washington wrestled with the fact that many were unwilling to fight. Due to the length of the book and the abundance of detail, it can be tedious. Middlekauff does his readers no favor in trying to impress them with his personal observations such as: "Soldiers of all nationalities usually have a special fondness for profanity, and many have a special proficiency in its use" (p. 419). In a less lengthy book, such intimacy with the reader might be appreciated, but in a book of 665 pages, it is simply wasted words. Yet, upon reading the book with an eye toward shortening it, one realizes that not much could, or should, be left out. Just be prepared for the most thorough, complete, and detailed account of this period of American history that you will ever find in one book.
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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 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 10 December 1998
If you are looking for a book that covers the politics of the American Revolution and the events leading to the Revolution, then this is the book for you. The detail that Mr. Middlekauff uses in his decriptions of the protests and rioting gives a new perspective into the feelings that were dominating in the Colonies at the time, but if you are looking for a more military oriented book, you might want to look elsewhere. This book totally ignores Conway's Cabal, Arnold's Treason and the decriptions of the battles leaves something to be desired at times.
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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 26 December 2003
Middlekauff sets out to comprehensively cover the reasons behind the Revolution. And for its time, the analysis itself was revolutionary - it placed a very strong emphasis on the tensions within the colonies themselves as the reason behind the Declaration of Independence. However, unless you have a strong interest in reading what is almost a state-by-state account of the events of the Revolution, you would be better off looking for a shorter synopsis - similar in theme, although believing in a more economic determination of the entire revolution, is Ed Countryman's "The American Revolution". Ultimately the sheer length of the book is demonstrative of an impressive feat of scholarship, but unless (like me) you wish to know every last detail of Revolutionary America, you should look elsewhere for a book.
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I've only ever read one other title from the 'Oxford History of the United States' series, and that was James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, which, by the way, is a masterpiece. This book is not in that league, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless.

I have to confess, I've never really known too much about the American Revolution. I never bought in to a lot of the myths surrounding these years - and boy, are there a lot of myths for something that only happened less than 300 years ago! This book really opened my eyes to how the Revolution was not a sudden event, a sudden momentous break, that it had been percolating and bubbling away for over ten years before 1776, exacerbated by a lack of faith in the doings of the British Parliament, a Parliament that repeatedly overstepped its bounds in relation to the colonies and cared little for the needs or desires of the people living in them.

And even after the war was over, the survival of the United States was not a done deal. There were a great deal of disenchantment with the Continental Congress; many felt that it had sacrificed the ideals that the people were originally fighting for. There was also a great amount of disagreement over what shape and form the future government should take - should there be a powerful central government, or should be invested in the states? This is an issue where perhaps the Founding Fathers failed, as still it rumbles on, nearly 250 years and one brutal civil war later.

This book is not perhaps your usual narrative history; it focuses far more on politics and political theory than people and events. I found it hard-going in places, and there were times when I wished for a bit more about certain times or places. Benedict Arnold's defection, for example, was mentioned only in passing, and I wanted to know more. But for a political discourse on the Revolution, I suspect it has few rivals.
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on 10 March 1998
This second volume of "The Oxford History of the United States" provides an objective, sober look at the American Revolution without denying its role in world history as a truly "glorious cause". In demythologizing the war as we saw it through grade-school eyes, author Robert Middlekauff profiles our Revolutionary forebears as they really were: men of courage and vision who were not without their flaws. Likewise, the British redcoats we loved to hate may not have been entirely hostile or unsympathetic to the legitimate grievances of the Americans, yet their often condescending view of the colonists and an incompetent colonial policy gave America no option but to rebel in the end. The book's well-written accounts of the Revolution's major battles will increase the reader's understanding of political, logistical, and strategic problems on both sides which contributed to the conflict's drawn-out, six-year duration. Unlike other histories of the war which end with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Mr. Middlekauff offers an absorbing narrative of the drafting of the Constitution in 1787 and its subsequent ratification by the states. After reading "The Glorious Cause", I can better appreciate the sacrifices made over 200 years ago by a determined people who, in defending divinely-established rights and liberties for themselves and their posterity, defended virtue and morality as well.
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