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Posted August 2, 2013
Many of the myths and illusions Fleming debunks have been known to scholars of the Revolution upwards of fifty years. Still, many of them were potent then and now.
This book explores the events and motives of both sides in the American struggle for independence. And, while the focus is properly placed on the actors in the field, the background deliberations in Philadelphia, London and Paris are not forgotten. The work depends heavily on primary sources of diaries and letters of the participants. Fleming's summary in the last pages is an excellent statement of his thesis and is well done.
On the negative side, the author's opinions and snide asides riddle the book and diminish its credibility. After castigating both sides for believing that the struggle could be deciding by one dramatic action, Fleming avows "he probably could have ended the Revolution that afternoon." (August 28, 1776, p.359) Labeling actions "idiocy" and "ridiculous" may please a popular audience, but it reveals of subjectivism. He sets up straw men, such as "the myth of the omnipotent American rifle," that tumble at his mere suggestion. Fleming decries the eighteenth century Pennsylvania's abandonment of the "hallowed principle" of one man, one vote (p. 302) despite that standard's twentieth century origin. Perhaps Fleming tips his hand when he speculates (p. 467) what an "investigative reporter" might have made of the American conduct of the war. His product reflects the headline-seeking reporter rather than the reflective scholar.
An observation: Fleming reports (p. 215), "By the change in weather on March 5, 'much blood was saved,' [Washington] told his brother John Augustine (Jack) Washington. 'This remarkable interposition of providence is for some wise purpose I have not a doubt.'" Washington won a battle by default which he would rather have fought (and possibly lost) by main force. Interestingly, Washington's great "victory" at Yorktown five years later was the same sort of non-battle. By then he was content.
Solid, scholarly work marred by a breathless, emotional presentation.
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Posted July 3, 2013
What I didn't know about the American Revolution would fill a book - this one. What an eye-opening and mind-opening read. Well done, Thomas Fleming.
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