Book Bleg – The American Revolution

One of the goals I have set for myself for the summer is to educate myself on the American Revolution. I have basic knowledge, but need to dig deeper.

My challenge for you, our smart Chicago Boyz commenters and authors, is to suggest a book or two that would be absolutely essential for me to read. To narrow this broad topic a bit, I don’t need suggestions about the Revolutionary War itself – I am treating the War as a separtate topic to be addressed at a later date. Obviously the War will need to be gone over in basics , but I am not looking for detailed campaign and battle information at this point.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

27 thoughts on “Book Bleg – The American Revolution”

  1. The later volumes of Rothbard’s “Conceived in Liberty” are good and detailed, if you are willing to look past the author’s occasional ideological zeal.

  2. David Hackett Fischer’s book Paul Revere’s Ride is my favorite book about the Revolution.

    For an overview, to get started, I suggest Gordon Wood’s short history titled The American Revolution.

  3. Bernard Baylin “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution” is a classic.

    One of the great failings of the our teachers of United States history has been their ignorance of British History, most importantly, the Stuart Era (James I 1603 to Anne 1714).

    Michael Barone wrote a terrific book oriented towards US history “Our First Revolution”.

    I have not read Kevin Phillips “Cousins Wars” yet.

  4. D.Hacket Fisher’s “Washington’s Crossing” not to be left out either. Much more than a Delaware river trip. The disastrous summer/fall of ’76 comes to a head with genius and courage.

  5. I’ll second Scullman’s suggestion of “Washington’s Crossing” which concerns itself with Washington’s army from the battle of New York, the long retreat, through to the momentum shifting battles of Trenton/Princeton in the New Jersey campaign. Pulitzer prize-winning, very readable, and copiously annotated.

  6. For how the political grass roots, our first Tea Partiers, grew into a mass movement and forced the founding fathers into separation, read Breen’s “American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People.”

    By Breen’s analysis, the Committees of Correspondence started the war at the local level, in their cities and villages, and then it rolled up into a continental revolution.

    Doesn’t get into the set piece battles but does cover the tar and feathering and the individual replacement of British colonial officials.

    Due to some geneological reseach by my daughter-in-law, it looks like my direct family ancestor fought at Trenton under Washington as part of the militia.

    Pull that oar, DeValt!

  7. Washington’s Crossing is good, but Paul Revere’s Ride is better. The appendices to PRR are worth the price of the book alone.

    Howard Zinn? I spy strangers.

    The Cousins’ Wars is good, in fact it is a favorite of mine, but not as an introduction to the Revolution.

  8. I’ll disagree with Lex here and say that The Cousins’ Wars might be the perfect book for understanding the American Revolution if you don’t have much detailed knowledge about it. It gives you the best possible understanding of the framework for the events — everything else you read will make much more sense (and will make obvious what the authors of the other works were missing.) At least if you’re like me and want the overview first, and then the details.

    The only problem with Phillips is that he short-changes 1688, but the Barone book fixes that. Then once you’ve mastered the overview, Paul Revere’s Ride is a very good “thick description” (to use an anthropological term) of the actual events and details on the ground. I love, for instance, DHF’s description of the New England militia system, and where he points out that the Massachusetts militia in 1775 actually had more and better combat experience than the Crown regiments they faced — their officers and non-coms had mostly been up to Quebec in 1763 and were veterans of hard fighting, while the Crown regiments were clapped-out riot police who had never been in a real battle.

  9. Allow me throw From Resistance to Revolution; Colonial Radicals and the development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776 ISBN 0-393-30825-1, by Pauline Maier into the mix. This was first published over 20 years ago, and there are possibly some interesting contemporary parallels that can be drawn.

    You might want to also read Resistance to Tyranny; a Primer ISBN-13: 978-1450574280 by COL Joseph P. Martino, USAF (ret). COL Martino specialized in Operations Research in Counter-Insurgency while stationed in Thailand and was later Chairman of the Counterinsurgency Working Group of the Military Operations Research Society.

    The second book, obviously, is not directly on point as far as your request about the America Revolution is concerned; but combining the two may yield some interesting insights as to motivations.

    The mention of the events of April 19, 1775 above is appropriate in my view. In my opinion, we became a country in fact on that day. Not at Concord or Lexington; but at a place called Merriam’s Corner on the road back to Boston. That is where the militias of the surrounding villages joined the fight. An attack on Concord and Lexington was judged to be an attack on all Americans, and Americans we were from that moment.

    Subotai Bahadur

  10. Kenneth Roberts’s novel “Oliver Wiswell” traces the major developments of the Revolution from the viewpoint of a young Tory. Don’t miss it; best thing of its kind.

  11. Zinn’s book is good in that he points out some oft-neglected aspects of the revolution. You do not have to be a communist to be interested in how these events affected people outside the ruling castes of early American society.

  12. Lots of good suggestions especially Washington’s Crossing and Bailyn’s Hutchinson. For an excellent understanding of the ideas that compelled the people to revolution I recommend Ratification by Pauline Meir. I learned a great deal including that John Jay wrote a defense of ratifying the Constitution that had more impact than the Federalist Papers.

  13. I think I learned more about that era from the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow than any other two or three books I can think of. Might not be specific enough for your requirements, but a great book.

  14. I also was going to suggest the Hamilton biography. I am in the middle of it now. As Chernow points out, Hamilton managed to be present at almost every pivotal event of the Revolution and the creation of the republic in its aftermath, until his death in 1804. So you have the grand sweep of the gathering anti-British sentiment, the war itself including several major battles, the Continental Congress, Valley Forge, the debate and ratification of the Constitution, the Federalist vs anti-Federalist debates, the North vs South divide, the issue of slavery, banking, taxation, the Whiskey Rebellion, relations with France and England, Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, Benedict Arnold, Washington, Jefferson, Adams….

    And Hamilton is such a great character. As Chernow says, his life story was so improbable no novelist would dare to write it. People either love him or hate him, and that was true during his lifetime as well….but no one seems to be indifferent to him.

  15. I also want to say that I too decided this year to learn more about our founding. Maybe it’s a delayed reaction to 2 years of Tea Partying? I don’t know but there is something in the air. But from the reading I have done, I get the sense that the best place to start is with Plutarch, whose histories seemed to be our founders’ common currency of political allusion and inspiration.

  16. This is in my Amazon cart but haven’t read yet:

    Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution [Paperback]
    Forrest McDonald

    “Forrest McDonald, widely considered one of the foremost historians of the Constitution and of the early national period, reconstructs the intellectual world of the Founding Fathers–including their understanding of law, history political philosophy, and political economy, and their firsthand experience in public affairs–and then analyzes their behavior in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in light of that world. No one has attempted to do so on such a scale before.”

  17. As a late comer to this topic, let me say that the bases are pretty well covered above.

    I am fortunate in having taken graduate history courses on the American Revolution twice. Sadly, the course is disappearing from the college and even university curriculum. Few PhDs are written in the field anymore. The writing of the story increasing turns to the non-specialists retreading the field.

    Gordon Woods, himself Bailyn’s student, many books are recommended, like Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different in place of Ellis, and his survey “The American Revolution.”
    Journalism prof A J Langgth’s “Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution” gets over 4.5 stars from almost 100 reviews at Amazon – and for good reason. it is outstanding.

  18. Chernow’s biographies on Washington and Hamilton are great in focusing on major characters of the revolution, but are a little short on details of the actual revolution itself. Both are still highly recommended.

    I know this goes beyond the war itself, but Pauline Maier’s book on the ratification of the Constitution should be required reading for understanding the document and the intention of those that ratified it. The focus on what happens when American revolutionary ideals meet political reality provide an insight on what provided stability for the country (and what undermined it less than a century later).

  19. Can I add one more? It’s been quite a long time since I read it for a class and have been thinking about reading it again: Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 175-1800. I thought it was a decent read at the time.

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