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Thread: Good history of American Revolution

  1. #1
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    Good history of American Revolution

    Confession time. I really enjoy reading history, but for whatever reason I don't enjoy post Industrial Revolution history, at least as a rule (WW2 is an exception to this). But in order to fill a hole in my knowledge, I read 1776 (McCullough), which is a popular book. I really enjoyed it, and now I want to know how the war turns out. I hear that we won, but I want some details. So what's a good book, written for non-historians but by an expert? In other words, a book like 1776.

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    How To Go triggercut's Avatar
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    If you don't mind ordering online, the "why the fuck is this out of print" 2-volume history by Page Smith, "A New Age Now Begins" is my favorite. For the Bicentennial of 1976, Smith decided to Shelby Foote the entire history of the United States through WWII. It ended up being an 8 volume set (I bought it in hardcover from someone on Ebay 5 years ago for pennies per volume), and while it has ups and downs, the first two volumes on the Revolution and formation of the country that followed are aces and the best volumes I know on the subject. Now you have to buy from Amazon's re-sellers since they're all outta print, but absolutely worth it:

    http://www.amazon.com/New-Age-Now-Be...6167004&sr=8-4

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    Thanks. That was pretty cheap for 2 volumes of out of print books.

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    How To Go triggercut's Avatar
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    Yeah, and Smith tells history very much in the way Shelby Foote does. In fact, Smith was famous for his crusade against "academic" historians, maintaining that history was kind of useless if you wrote it in a way that prevented others from being able to absorb and want to read and learn from it. For all that, he himself had impressive academic credentials (he studied under Admiral Morison at Harvard for his masters in history), but was more interested in the colloquial, novel-esque style of narrative history.

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    "WHY WON'T HE DIE!" Social Worker
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    I liked The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff well enough.

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    George Washington's War by Robert Leckie.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lake View Post
    George Washington's War by Robert Leckie.
    Leckie actually copied full passages from Page Smith in this book.

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    I recommend the amazing historical detail and accuracy found in Mel Gibson's "The Patriot".

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    Invite Lum to a good bar and get him talking.
    I've never tried, but I imagine getting him to stop again is the difficult part.

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    New Romantic Jon Rowe's Avatar
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    One of the best books I read this year was

    "Blood and Thunder"


    It is basically a true story of how the west was won. Reading this book made me really get into learning more about the western expansion era. The book pulls no punches and mexicans, americans, and native americans are all told realistically. There are no real "bad guys" or "good guys" every side has their heroes and bad apples alike.

    I seriously read this giant book in like 5 days. He does a great job of telling history as a narrative, creating real characters out of historical figures.

    (I know it is post industrial revolution, but it is still really cool because it is such an unkown part of history)

    Also, Kit Carson is a certified BAMF

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    I just finished a nice one volume summary by John Ferling, "Almost a Miracle" http://www.amazon.com/Almost-Miracle.../dp/0195181212

    For me, the best part was pretty much the explanation of how the British ended up at Yorktown and the disastrous southern campaign that started with so much promise (the capture of Charleston and the destruction of about the entire southern Continental armY). This is pretty riveting reading and incredibly dramatic. The British forces were chasing Greene/Morgan and many times had basically a coinflip's chance to catch the divided Americans, squish them and then yorktown never happens.

    Also lays out Saratoga with good maps and explains how screwed the Redcoats were.

    But it also has super cool trivia like:

    George Washington was so pissed at Benedict Arnold that he commissioned a soldier to go undercover, join the British and capture or assassinate Benedict Arnold. Guy actually joined the Loyalist Legion before deserting right before Yorktowne to rejoin the Continental Army.

    John Paul Jones really even more of a badass that folks think. I always thought his legendary battle wasn't that big of deal but it was just part of a larger serious of raids that really shook up Britain in a big way. He actually landed and invaded the UK, the first such invasion in over a century!

    Knox, Greene and Dan Morgan, especially the latter, are underappreciated.

  12. #12
    New Romantic
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    I asked my colleague, Steve Bullock, who specializes in the period around the American Revolution (he's also an expert on the Freemasons and for awhile enjoyed fleeting fame as the History channel's go-to talking head whenever they couldn't get Dan Brown, which drove Steve nuts, because they'd rather have a crappy novelist than an actual, y'know, historian on the History channel), and he recommended Washington's Crossing by David Fischer.

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    David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing IMHO is the best account of the Trenton/Princeton raids. Richard Ketchum's older title Winter Soldiers covers the same ground and is also quite good (I've enjoyed most of his books).

    Fischer's Paul Revere's Ride is also one of the best (if not the best) nearly hour by hour account of the "skirmishes" at Lexington/Concord and the road in-between.

    For the Long Island/Manhattan campaign I recommend Barnet Schecter's The Battle for New York.

    Richard Ketchum's Saratoga is an excellent work on the battles of Freeman's Farm and Bemis Heights.

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    Those sound like great specific books, but I was more looking for overviews that will help me understand the rest of the war after 1776. Still, these are all excellent suggestions for delving into specific battles.

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    I've been on a colonial - early Republic military history binge for the past two years. I've probably read about 30 books covering King Philip's War to the War of 1812. It's a truly fascinating era.

    For a larger picture of post-1776, I'd recommend the following:

    Ketchum's book, Saratoga, that I mentioned earlier is also an excellent look at the year 1777 (year of the hangman) and how the British failed miserably to capitalize on their strategic gains.

    Iron Tears: America's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire by Stanley Weintraub

    The Road to Guilford Courthouse by John Buchanan (covers the war after the shift to the Carolinas, leading to Yorktown).

    Angel in the Whirwind by Benson Bobrick (a near classic overview)

    Redcoats and Rebels by Christopher Hibbert (The Revolution through British eyes).

    Washington's General: Nathanael Greene by Terry Colway (Covers much of the war with an emphasis on Greene's southern campaigns).

    Benedict Arnold by James K. Martin (an eye-opening and pretty impartial work on Arnold's life. Had he died at Bemis Heights, he'd be one of our greatest Revolutionary war commanders).


    Though outside of your current interest, a work I consider essential in understanding the origins of the American Revolution is Fred Anderson's epic, magisterial Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America 1754 - 1766

    It's a shame that The French and Indian War isn't covered as much as the Revolution.

    If you're ever interested in an overview of how the American Revolution influenced/affected Europe during the late 18th century, I recommend Jay Winik's The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800. A great read.



    Bill
    Last edited by Bill Hiles; 07-16-2008 at 08:16 PM.

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    I'm getting my M.A. in history, and I cannot recommend Walter McDougall enough. For a summer 19th-century readings class, I finished reading his Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877, and I found his style engaging, readable, and informative--and it's no small feat to attain all three. I know that's outside your time frame, but I have a point. I enjoyed the book so much I went out and bought its predecessor Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History 1585-1828. (Even though I no longer have time or even inclination to read history for pleasure; this is proving an exception.) Although it's a bit broader in scope than you're probably looking for, I'd still recommend that you might want to check it out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Sharp View Post
    Those sound like great specific books, but I was more looking for overviews that will help me understand the rest of the war after 1776. Still, these are all excellent suggestions for delving into specific battles.
    That's why I recommended Professor Smith to you. He'll take you from colonization to the Constitution, and he won't stint the details either in the 1700 pages he takes to do it. He also keeps the story moving and lively and incredibly enjoyable.

    As a for instance, here's a passage from page 332 of the first volume, talking about the venomous hatred in Boston leading up to the Massacre with details they never told us about in history class:

    On Friday March 2 a Boston ropemaker named William Green, busy with his fellows braiding fibers on an outdoor "ropewalk" or ropemaking machine, called to Patrick Walker, a soldier of the Twenty-ninth who was passing by and asked if he wanted work. "Yes" Walker replied. "Then go and clean my shithouse" was Green's response. The soldier answered in similar terms, and when Green threatened him, he departed, swearing to return with some of his regimental mates. Return he did with no less than forty soldiers, led by a big Negro drummer.

    ...That night, a ropemaker lodging with Benjamin Burdick complained to his landlord that several soldiers were "dogging" him (with catcalls from the street). When Burdick asked a soldier lurking in the street outside what he was doing, the soldier replied "I'm pumping shit." "March off," Burdick ordere. The soldier damned him and Burdick beat him with a stick until he fled.
    I mean, how awesome is it that one of our revolutionary Founding Fathers taunted a Redcoat soldier by telling him to clean his shithouse?

    Anyone interested in the subject, Smith's two volume history is the definitive survey of it all.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by triggercut View Post
    I mean, how awesome is it that one of our revolutionary Founding Fathers taunted a Redcoat soldier by telling him to clean his shithouse?
    Uh. Not very.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CSL View Post
    Uh. Not very.
    You're Canadian. Why are you still even a country?

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    "WHY WON'T HE DIE!" Social Worker
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    Quote Originally Posted by triggercut View Post
    You're Canadian. Why are you still even a country?
    Because the Anglos and French don't like you Yanks equally.

    Plus, nice way to dodge the issue.

    Also, don't pay attention to me since I've been drinking a little bit.

    Furthermore, commas are nice.

  21. #21
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    I've found American Revolution books to be a really, really mixed bag. There are basically two kinds:

    The kind that portray the Revolution as a glorious uprising of the people against a great injustice, an event that was a war between nations rather than a civil war... and the kind that treat the Revolution as a side theater of a major European conflict, where a hardcore minority led a large minority into independence as opposed to forcing Parliament to compromise. Basically, the Founding Fathers are the Bolsheviks in this version, hijacking an uprising for their own ends.

    I'm really not quite sure which history to believe.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jakub View Post
    I'm really not quite sure which history to believe.
    Does it have to be one or the other?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Mayer View Post
    Does it have to be one or the other?
    I was summing up my confusion there.

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