A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic

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It was an age of fascinating leaders and difficult choices, of grand ideas eloquently expressed and of epic conflicts bitterly fought. Now comes a brilliant portrait of the American Revolution, one that is compelling in its prose, fascinating in its details, and provocative in its fresh interpretations.

In A Leap in the Dark, John Ferling offers a magisterial new history that surges from the first rumblings of colonial protest to the volcanic ...

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A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic

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Overview

It was an age of fascinating leaders and difficult choices, of grand ideas eloquently expressed and of epic conflicts bitterly fought. Now comes a brilliant portrait of the American Revolution, one that is compelling in its prose, fascinating in its details, and provocative in its fresh interpretations.

In A Leap in the Dark, John Ferling offers a magisterial new history that surges from the first rumblings of colonial protest to the volcanic election of 1800. Ferling's swift-moving narrative teems with fascinating details. We see Benjamin Franklin trying to decide if his loyalty was to Great Britain or to America, and we meet George Washington when he was a shrewd planter-businessman who discovered personal economic advantages to American independence. We encounter those who supported the war against Great Britain in 1776, but opposed independence because it was a "leap in the dark." Following the war, we hear talk in the North of secession from the United States. The author offers a gripping account of the most dramatic events of our history, showing just how closely fought were the struggle for independence, the adoption of the Constitution, and the later battle between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Yet, without slowing the flow of events, he has also produced a landmark study of leadership and ideas. Here is all the erratic brilliance of Hamilton and Jefferson battling to shape the new nation, and here too is the passion and political shrewdness of revolutionaries, such as Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, and their Loyalist counterparts, Joseph Galloway and Thomas Hutchinson. Here as well are activists who are not so well known today, men like Abraham Yates, who battled for democratic change, and Theodore Sedgwick, who fought to preserve the political and social system of the colonial past. Ferling shows that throughout this period the epic political battles often resembled today's politics and the politicians—the founders—played a political hardball attendant with enmities, selfish motivations, and bitterness. The political stakes, this book demonstrates, were extraordinary: first to secure independence, then to determine the meaning of the American Revolution.

John Ferling has shown himself to be an insightful historian of our Revolution, and an unusually skillful writer. A Leap in the Dark is his masterpiece, work that provokes, enlightens, and entertains in full measure.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
This deft account of the American struggle for independence dispels the aura of inevitability that usually surrounds such histories by beginning its narrative not on the verge of the Revolution but twenty years earlier. Ferling demonstrates how the thought of independence emerged only gradually out of the fight against unfair taxation and British indifference. The endless clashes with Colonial authorities turned cautious merchants and gentlemen farmers who thought of themselves as loyal British subjects into genuine revolutionaries. Still, a sense of uncertainty persisted well after the British surrender, and Ferling vividly evokes the political turmoil of the post-Revolutionary years. Even as he takes the Founders off their pedestals, their accomplishments only gain in stature.
The Washington Post
Every generation of Americans deserves a first-class history of the revolutionary era, and John Ferling has supplied it for this one. Those 2 million readers of David McCullough's John Adams, captivated by Adams's ardent patriotism and fiery opinions, will especially benefit from returning to the subject under the firm direction of a historian with a command of the scholarship that is matched by his gifts as a writer. — Joyce Appleby
Library Journal
Many Americans today see the period from 1754 to 1801 in American history as a rational progression from British colony to the independent United States. Nothing could be further from the truth, as shown by Ferling (history, State Univ. of West Georgia; John Adams: A Life) in this account of the Founding Fathers' struggles to do what had not been done before: create a nation. Throughout, he debunks popularly held notions: Benjamin Franklin, for example, pursued reconciliation with England even as the Minutemen were marching, believing negotiation was in the best interests of the American Colonies. George Washington had more luck than skill as a military commander and trapped the British at Yorktown only after French general Rochambeau urged him to march to the Chesapeake and ensnare British general Cornwallis by land and by sea. As the fighting ended, American leaders realized that the Articles of Confederation, which bound the Colonies together during the war, was inadequate for the peace. Revolutionary leaders declared independence when they saw no other alternative but war, and they wrote the Constitution when they saw no other alternative than union led by a strong national government. Ferling's intriguing narrative is filled with stories of Americans both famous and obscure. This book should be purchased by all academic and most public libraries.-Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195159240
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/18/2003
  • Pages: 576
  • Lexile: 1450L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.56 (w) x 6.44 (h) x 1.75 (d)

Meet the Author

John Ferling is a Professor of History at the State University of West Georgia. A familiar face in history documentaries on television, he has written numerous books, including John Adams: A Life, The First of Men: A Life of George Washington, and Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in the American Revolution.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Past Really is Another Country
Part I: Falling From Grace
1. Joseph Glanvill: Scientific Witch-Finder
2. The Man Who Made Underpants for Frogs
3. Pettenkofer's Poisoned Chalice
Part II: Eureka! Revisited
4. Sir Isaac Newton and the Meaning of Light
5. Dr. James Lind and the Navy's Scourge
6. The Destruction of Ignaz Semmelweis
Part III: Heroes Made to Measure
7. Will the Real Johann Weyer Please Stand Up?
8. Philippe Pinel: The Reforging of a Chain-Breaker
Part IV: Do-It-Yourself Heroes
9. The First Casualty of War
10. Rank Hath its Privileges Conslusion: The Bigger Picture

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2003

    Amazing ignorance or carelessness

    I began reading this book, enjoying it very much and learning things I had never read elsewhere about the period. However, on page 34 I found an amazing confusion of Patrick Henry's two most famous speeches, the author strangely refering to the mythical 'give me liberty or give me death' ending of Henry's speech in the Virginia House of Burgesses in opposition to the Stamp Act. Well, there is nothing mythical about Henry saying 'give me liberty or give me death', but it was ten years later in reaction to the start of fighting between colonists and British soldiers at Lexington and Concord. So how does a real expert in the field confuse these two speeches ? I had to know the difference in my high school US history course. Where were the editors ? This is not up to Oxford's standards. An error so flagrant destroyed my confidence in the book. How can I believe in the accuracy of those things I don't already know from other sources ? If I can't, why read the book at all ?

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2012

    Some misinformation

    This book is very informative and a good read. I am a little disturbed that the author wrote that Henry's "give me liberty or give me death" speech was given at the House of Burgesses in reaction to the Stamp Act, it was the Caesar-Brutus speech that railed against the Stamp Act.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2004

    Informative History

    Highly recomended accout of the period from the mid 1750's until the election of 1800. Flows smoothly and is highly readable and well written. Teaches material that is not found in ordinary textbooks and generally not taught in college history cources. The founding fathers come alive complete with all their many attributes as well as faults. After reading this book, one will realize what a struggle it was to create the American form of government and just how close we came to not suceeding.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2004

    GLORIOUS

    i was blown away by this book....the history and stuff, just wow im talling yah, you need to read it..now go read it now. i sware it wont waste your time

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2003

    Great Read

    I found the book fantastic. Where was this book when I was forced to study history Our founding fathers made human and not always saintly. I loved the poitics and the author occasionly relates the situation to today.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2003

    An intellectual study of early American politics

    A biased media, politicians more concerned with party loyalty than the common good, mudslinging, and sex scandals are not problems that just plagued American politics in the 20th and 21st Century, but problems that also plagued the 18th, and 19th, and have plagued the country since the establishment of a centralized government. This is what John Ferling attempts, and succeeds at, proving with A Leap in the Dark. Unlike his contemporary, Ferling doesn¿t start this examination of early American politics, with Washington¿s administration, but from the very start of the colonists uprising. His essay holds more power because of this, as one can see the evolution of the colony¿s politics to a glimpse what the nation has become today.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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