November/December 2004 | Volume 55, Issue 6
I’ve been fighting the war of the American Revolution (on paper, that is, and with none of the suffering the participants endured) off and on since 1962, and my research has included journals, diaries, letters, newspapers, and books on nearly all the campaigns. For the list that follows I have assumed that a reader is interested in the overall story of the Revolutionary War. (Books about specific campaigns or battles are far too numerous to include.) These are books I have found informative, enjoyable, and, in some cases, worth reading again and again. They are old friends, and though a number of them were published some time ago, they are reliable.
One work I am almost reluctant to mention because of its size and limited availability is nonetheless worth pursuing in a good library. This is
Now, for the more accessible titles:
by Fred Anderson (2000; Knopf), is a superb account of the period. The seeds of the American Revolution lay in the Seven Years’ War (or, as the colonists called it, the French and Indian War), and the road to revolution was opened by removal of the French threat from Canada, while the French and Indian War gave the British a rationale for taxing their colonists.
by Christopher Ward (1952; Macmillan; out of print) is a solid, eminently readable narrative of the entire war, in two volumes. If you wish to limit your reading to a single source, this would be it, in my opinion.
A splendid account of how the rebellion began is Allen French’s
The story of the Revolution is the story of individuals who were caught up in it, and in two important and similar works (which I’m counting as one entry) the authors have introduced and connected excerpts from contemporary sources:
More than any other man, George Washington was the American Revolution, and the second volume of James Thomas Flexner’s four-volume biography of the Commander-in-Chief,
Another biography I recommend highly is Carl Van Doren’s
An excellent historical study of Britain’s strategy during the revolt of its American colonies is Piers Mackesy’s
Catherine S. Crary’s
(1930; Books for Libraries Press; out of print) is a remarkable memoir of an Irish-born British army officer’s active duty from 1775 to 1781. It is filled with acid and perceptive comments about participants on both sides. Mackenzie was no admirer of Gen. Henry Clinton, and after the arrival of a French fleet in America, he wrote: “So extraordinary an event as the present, certainly never before occurred in the History of Britain! An Army of 50,000 men [i.e., Clinton’s force], and a fleet of near 100 ships and armed vessels, are prevented from acting Offensively by the appearance on the American Coast of a French Squadron of 12 Sail of the line and 4 Frigates, without Troops.”
For insight into the experiences of a private soldier in the Continental Army, one of the best surviving accounts is that by Joseph Plumb Martin. Edited by George F. Scheer,