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To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom

To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom

3.9 117
by Newt Gingrich, William R. Forstchen, Albert S. Hanser

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Bestselling authors Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen turn their sharp eye for detail on three men in the middle of the Revolutionary War and the birth of America.

It is the night before the crossing of the Delaware, one of the most iconic events in American history, and General Washington is full of doubt. The harsh winter and repeated defeats have dimmed


Bestselling authors Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen turn their sharp eye for detail on three men in the middle of the Revolutionary War and the birth of America.

It is the night before the crossing of the Delaware, one of the most iconic events in American history, and General Washington is full of doubt. The harsh winter and repeated defeats have dimmed his army's spirit. The revolution has come down to one desperate salvo as the freezing, hungry rebels slip across the river.

While Washington prepares, Thomas Paine, writing in Philadelphia, captures the army's grim reality in one line: "These are the times that try men's souls."

Private Jonathan Van Dorn is about to bring the war to his own doorstep. Jonathan must decide between staying loyal to the American cause and sparing his brother, who has joined the British.

Through these three men, Gingrich and Forstchen illuminate the Revolution's darkest days. They bring to life the thrilling Battle of Trenton, the victory that brought Americans the faith that they could win over insurmountable odds. With detailed research and incredible military insight, To Try Men's Souls is a novel that provides a rare and personal perspective of the men who fought for the United States of America.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Surely to become another popular book for Gingrich and Forstchen.” —Publishers Weekly

“This is the essence of the iconic battlefield tale superbly and vividly told in Gingrich and Forstchen's latest historical novel.... This is one of the best historical novels you will ever read!” —BookLoons.com

"The real war will never get in the books," Walt Whitman once lamented. If that was true of the Civil War, how much more true would it be of the even more distant Revolutionary War? Apparently recognizing those odds, in this historical novel, Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen have tried mightily to give 21st-century readers a visceral sense of an 18th-century struggle. To Try Men's Souls renders the fight for American freedom through the lives of three men: General George Washington, masterful pamphleteer Thomas Paine, and Jonathan Van Dorn, a lowly private in Washington's army. Thus, this book presents the struggle as it was experienced by three very different men who shared nothing but the dangers the war thrust upon them. A solid addition to Gingrich's well-researched series of novels about American wars.
Publishers Weekly
After hacking their way through the Civil War and WWII, former House Speaker Gingrich and historian Forstchen take on the Revolutionary War with decidedly mixed results. Sharing narration duties are Thomas Paine, George Washington and Jonathan van Dorn, a young private in Washington's army. From Washington's crossing of the Delaware River to a daring night raid on the better-armed Hessians, the authors do a decent job of depicting the dire plight of the Continental Army, though the big chunks of backstory wedged into the narrative add little texture while slowing the pace dramatically. Historical cameos abound, and these, combined with the attention devoted to the gritty details of army life, help to offset Washington's acts of patriotic melodrama in what is surely to become another popular book for Gingrich and Forstchen. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In an intriguing departure from their two alternative history series on the Civil War and World War II, Gingrich and Forstchen marvelously retell the story of one of the darkest periods in American history, the Christmas of 1776. George Washington's army, defeated and starving, is in tatters and devastated, both physically and emotionally. Washington desperately needs a victory and pins all his hopes on a surprise raid on Hessian headquarters at Trenton, NJ. The battle for Trenton is told through Washington's agonized thoughts, as well as through the viewpoint of Thomas Paine, who wants to recapture the magic of Common Sense and inspire a nation, and Jonathan Van Dorn, an idealistic young American soldier. The American victory at Trenton was far from ordained; instead, it was almost miraculous and probably saved the American Revolution. VERDICT Grim, gritty, realistic, accurate, and splendid, this is a soaring epic of triumph over almost unimaginable odds. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/09.]—Robert Conroy, Warren, MI
Kirkus Reviews
Historically minded Gingrich and Forstchen (Days of Infamy, 2008, etc.) fix their eyes on the Revolutionary War and the pivotal victory that saved America. Dec. 25, 1776. General George Washington, at the head of a ragtag, half-starved, oft-beaten army, is about to give his fledgling nation an unforgettable Christmas present. The Hessian mercenaries hired by King George are quartered in tiny Trenton, snug and smug, wallowing complacently in the limited pleasures of the season. Outside, sleet and bone-chilling wind relentlessly punish an exposed Continental Army. Wandering among the soldiers and sharing their misery is Thomas Paine, whose pen has been a goad to British sensibilities and a spur to American unrest. Now, however, Tom's under pressure. A clamor has risen on every side for a successor to his Common Sense, which sold 100,000 copies and fired up rebellious hearts throughout the colonies. Even Washington importunes him: "You must write something! Anything!" But the great pamphleteer suffers writer's block until he comes upon a campfire surrounded by a handful of hard-used militia men, including the fictitious 15-year-old Jonathan van Dorn. Suddenly a quarrel develops. Enraged at what he senses is a looming defection, young van Dorn cries out, "You were nothing but a patriot when the sun was shining but now that winter is here? My God . . . how you try my soul." And the rest, as they say, is history. Writer's block vanished, Tom gets his theme, Washington gets his victory and the overconfident Hessians get their comeuppance. The prose is rich in platitudes, especially when the underimagined characters are making speeches to each other. It takes more than vividly rendered battlescenes to make compelling historical fiction.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
George Washington Series , #1
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.54(w) x 11.28(h) x 0.97(d)

Read an Excerpt



• *

Christmas Night

McConkey’s Ferry, Pennsylvania

Nine Miles North of Trenton, New Jersey

December 25, 1776

4:30 P.M.


It is so cold, so damnably cold, he thought, pulling his hat lower in an attempt to shield his face from the wind and the driving rain. His woolen cape was soaked through, water coursing down his neck, his uniform already clammy. Though his knee- high boots were of the fi nest calfskin, they were soaked as well and his pants sopping wet halfway up the thigh as a result of his having slipped several times walking along the banks of the flood- swollen Delaware River. Another gust of wind out of the east kicked up spray that stung his face, and he turned his back as it swept by, roaring through the treetops and up the ridge on the Pennsylvania side of the river.

“This damn storm will play hell with moving the artillery across.” General George Washington, commander of what had once been so valiantly called the Continental Army of the United States of America, turned toward the speaker, his artillery chief, Colonel Henry Knox. Rotund at what had to be three hundred pounds and powerful looking, towering several inches over Washington’s six foot, two inches, the artilleryman was shivering, his spectacles misted by the rain. Knox looked pathetic, this bookseller turned warrior who should have been in his store in Boston, resting by a crackling fire rather than out on an evening such as this.

“They’ll cross. They have to cross,” Washington replied calmly. “This wind is just as cold for the Hessians as it is for us. They may not be very good at picketing in this kind of storm.” He wondered if Knox and the others gathered nearby, Generals Stirling and Greene, their orderlies and staff, were waiting for the most obvious of orders on a night like this, just waiting for him to sigh and say, “Return the men to their encampments.” He shook his head, shoulders hunched against the spates of rain, which were turning to sleet.

He looked across the river, to the east, to the Jersey shore. In his haunted memories, memories that did indeed haunt, he could see that other river bordering New Jersey sixty miles to the east . . . the Hudson, and just beyond the Hudson . . . the East River. Merciful God, was it but five months ago we were arrayed there in our proud defiance? Another gust swept across the Delaware, but this time he did not turn away from it.

How hot it had been during those days of August. How proud we were. How proud and confident I was, he thought. He shook his head at the memory of it. Our victory at Boston and the British withdrawal from that port had misled all of us into an absurd overconfidence. We had marched to New York in anticipation of the next British move with the satisfaction of having driven off the army of the most powerful country in the world and were expecting to do so again with ease.

On the very day that the Declaration was read publicly for the first time, the vanguard of King George’s reply was coasting Long Island, bearing toward New York’s outer harbor. He had second- guessed the move months before, and so had moved his army, fresh from their triumph at Boston, on the long march south to defend New York. Filled with confidence, so many had boasted that if the British and their hireling Germans, commonly called Hessians, did attempt to return there, this new army of America would make short work of them.

Arriving in New York the Continentals had set to work with vigor, building bastions, fortifications, and strong points, ringing the harbor with hundreds of guns and near to thirty thousand troops. Most of the troops he had commanded during the long siege of Boston had been New Englanders. It had been a difficult command and one, at first, not easily accepted. The men of Massachusetts felt one of their own should be in command, for, after all, was it not their state that had stood up first, and was it not their state where the battle was being fought? It had taken the utmost of tact to manage them in a situation that would have caused any regular officer of the British army to howl with rage or derision or both. Yet manage them he did, slowly earning their begrudging respect.

As they set to work building their fortifications around New York Harbor, reinforcements flooded in from the other states, transforming the army. There were tough backwoodsmen from the frontiers of Pennsylvania, western New York, Virginia, and the Carolinas joining spit- and- polish regiments from the tidewater of Chesapeake Bay and unruly militia by the thousands from Jersey, lower New York, and Connecticut.

His army swelled until there were more men than the entire population of Philadelphia, America’s most populous city. The worry then, added to when the invasion would strike, was simply keeping so many men fed, housed, and healthy and not at each other’s throats. As to the feeding and housing, the need had been met, for the countryside was rich; supplies could be floated down the Hudson Valley and drawn in from the fertile Jersey countryside. As to health, that soon broke down as it would in almost any army that stayed in camp. Smallpox struck thousands, and hundreds perished, but such was to be expected even in the best tended of armies. As to stopping the men from going at each other’s throats, that had proven near impossible at times.

Though he would never admit it within the hearing of a single living soul, the New Englanders struck him as a haughty and ill- bred lot, lacking in the refinements a gentleman planter of Virginia expected of them. He was not the only person in the command to carry such feelings, and nearly all others expressed them openly, vocally, and at times violently. He actually started to pray that the British would return, and soon, for, if not, the army might very well rend itself apart. And they had come, as if in answer to that prayer, and proved reality a curse. In the first week of July the vanguard appeared; in the next weeks, more and yet more— ships of the line, frigates, fast sloops and brigs, supply ships— and then the transports brought regiment after regiment of En gland’s finest. How ironic that with each passing day he could ride down to the narrows between Long Island and Staten Island and with telescope watch the ranks disembarking onto Staten Island. Regimental standards he remembered with such admiration from the last war floated on the breeze, and when the wind came from the west he could even hear their bands playing. And alongside men who were once old comrades were the blue uniforms of the regiments from Hesse and Hanover, men who at first were merely scorned, but soon would be feared by every man in his army.

The Howe brothers, Richard in command of the navy, William the army, had made their arrangements in a ponderous, leisurely fashion, the intent obvious, to overawe before the first shot was fired. There had even been diplomatic protocols observed, of offers of reconciliation if only Washington and his rabble would ground arms, renew allegiance to the king, and return peaceably to their homes. The offers, of course, had been met with scorn and contempt. Officers around him had boasted that once swords were crossed, it would be the British who begged for mercy; before summer was out the entire lot of them would be sent packing to their humiliated master, George the Third.

Another gust of wind swept in from across the frozen plains of New Jersey, racing across the river, causing him to shiver again as the frigid rain lashed his face.  Few boasted now, few indeed.

Meet the Author

NEWT GINGRICH, front-running Republican primary candidate for the 2012 Presidential Election, former Speaker of the House, bestselling author of Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor, the longest serving teacher of the Joint War Fighting Course for Major Generals at Air University, and an honorary Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Professor at the National Defense University. He resides in Virginia with his wife, Callista, with whom he hosts and produces documentaries, including their latest, "A City Upon A Hill".

WILLIAM R. FORSTCHEN, Ph.D., is a Faculty Fellow at Montreat College in Montreat, North Carolina. He received his doctorate from Purdue University and is the author of more than forty books. He is the New York Times best selling author of One Second After, published by Tor/Forge of St. Martin's Press. He resides near Asheville, North Carolina, with his daughter, Meghan.

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To Try Men's Souls 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 117 reviews.
Duffbert More than 1 year ago
I *still* have a hard time associating Newt Gingrich with books instead of with government, but I'm getting over it after having read many of his historical novels. The latest one he's produced is titled To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom, written along with William R. Forstchen. The American Revolution is not my normal reading fare, but sometimes you go with a book just because of the author's past work. That's what happened here, and I'm glad I did. Gingrich and Forstchen put real flesh, blood, pain, and emotions behind a pivotal battle for our independence, in a way that puts the history books to shame. To Try Men's Souls takes place in the month before Christmas of 1776, the time of the infamous river crossing portrayed in paint. The soldiers of the Revolution (if you could call them that) were frozen, hungry, diseased, and near death. The English, with assistance from the Hessians, had the war nearly won. They could have ended America's fledgling democracy had they continued to push forward for only a couple more days. But they chose to avoid the horrible weather and celebrate Christmas. General Washington gambled all he had left and marched the troops (or what remained of them) through ice and snow, many barefoot, to have the one last battle at Trenton. Much to his amazement, they were able to surprise the English troops and took the city with nearly no casualties on their part. That's not to say that the battle was won without cost... Many died in the following days from the ravages of disease that overtook them. But the tide had been turned, and history records what happened from there. The story in the novel follows General George Washington, Thomas Paine, and a private in the army, Jonathan Van Dorn. Through their eyes, you see the doubt, the hope, the despair and suffering. Washington shows compassion for his men, knowing he has little choice but to risk their lives to gain freedom from England. Paine is looked to as the inspiration for a nation with his words, but he's at a loss to explain how much freedom costs, and how it's killing those around him. Van Dorn is the young lad who believes in what they are doing, what they stand for, regardless of the personal hell he's going through to fight for those ideals. These are the stories that get glossed over in the history books. These are the stories that help you understand and appreciate what we have been given in this country. Granted, the actual words and thoughts are "historical fiction", but the color and flavor is not. The only aspect of the book that I though was not great was the pacing at certain points. Even though the book covers a month of time, much of the action is spent marching in snow and ice... and crossing rivers... and trying to sleep... before more marching in snow and ice... I still found the overall story riveting, but at times I wanted something more to happen than simply another description of how cold it was and how much the soldiers were suffering. Even so, To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom is one of those books that gives you a deeper appreciation for a certain historical event, and makes you see everything at a whole new level of understanding.
Cinlite More than 1 year ago
I am afraid that those who read this book and truly appreciate its message are a dying breed in this nation. One must possess an appreciation for the actual cost of freedom and the necessity to preserve it in order to truly embrace the message the authors were trying to convey. I am glad that I read the book and I had a personal motivation to do so. One of my great grandfathers fought and was wounded in the Revolution and was with George Washington at Valley Forge. I wanted to be able to visualize what he must have gone through fighting for what I enjoy today. May we never lose sight of the treasure we have in the USA. FREEDOM....LIBERTY and those that fight to preserve it.
MattyDM More than 1 year ago
My feet still ache with cold after reading the book. The narrative captures the pain and suffering those men experienced during the American Revolution. Indeed, those were times that did try men's souls as well as their health, their mettle, and their bravery. The book presumes that the reader is familiar with Paine's Common Sense and if not, the thread weaves one though the history of the time so that Paine's call to arms makes complete sense. A superb wordsmith, Paine's importance to American history cannot be ignored. One issue that bothered me a bit was the continual scene change, back and forth time wise. I found myself having to go back in the book to clarify the timeline. I suspect that is my problem, as I tend to think linearly. I feel I know George Washington better than before but not as well as the young soldier Jonathan or some of the other characters in the novel. Washington's self talk was not as colorful as some soldier's rum soaked chatter. I read the book on a trip through the Panama Canal and I could not help but appreciate the historical significance of the American Revolution's impact on the future activities of the United States, both foreign and domestic. I have a hunch that Teddy Roosevelt was very familiar with Washington's military strategies. A quote midway through the book- "Thus it has always been. The labor is done by the few, and later many can lay claim to the bounty" was cause for a poignant moment of reflection. The book is in the "can't put it down" category and has my highest recommendation.
JoeJP More than 1 year ago
This was a terrific novel. We are Washingto, Thoman Paine in the night and early morning of December 26th as Washington set out to cross the Delaware. To read of the struggle that these men went through in order to give all of us the liberties that we have now was a wonderful experience. It really places our current problems into perspective. These men went through so much, sacrificeid so much, and at that time, freedom was just an illusion. Most American had already given up on the idea and were convinced the British would would continue to rule the American colonies. By their efforts, against all odds, these men defined, and continue to do so, what it means to be an American. God knows we need to be reminded of that right now.
Dajuca58 More than 1 year ago
I felt I was there on that fateful night. A night that should not have turned out the way it did. It's about General Washington, Thomas Paine and Jonathan Van Dorn and how their lives are intertwined in their fight for a new country and independence. Such an inspirational story. One that makes me so proud to be an American. I loved how the characters came to life and you really felt for each of them and their plight. Can not wait to read Newt's and Bill's next book.
AKRon More than 1 year ago
"They could have ended America's fledgling democracy had they continued to push forward for only a couple more days." It was a republic.
KippLanham More than 1 year ago
With their latest historical fiction, Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen vividly capture in "To Try Men's Souls" the hazards and heartaches encountered by historic luminaries General George Washington, Thomas Paine, and Dr. Benjamin Rush during the Revolutionary War. The most interesting portrayal is that of Thomas Paine as he struggles with past demons to draft his pamphlets to rouse the resistance against Britain. In addition, suspense was effectively applied to build up to the battle at Trenton. I constantly felt the tension in the possibility of a confrontation between the rebels, German, and British soldiers happening at any moment. Furthermore, character development and the setting were well presented albeit there were times the reality the soldiers were cold, anxious, and homesick was repeated too much. Gingrich and Forstchen can trust that the reader gets the implications of the winter storm and soldier's conditions after they are first introduced in each chapter. The incessant reminder of each bogs down the pace of the prose for the sake of page numbers. I recommend this book as an opportunity to experience the earnestness and exasperation soldiers felt on both sides of the battlefield in some of the most harrowing days of the Revolutionary War.
JohnBPatriot More than 1 year ago
At first I felt this had too much detai...but as I was reading through it I realized that I felt I was part of the arduous trek to Trenton. With so much detail I started to feel I was walking side by side with these brave soldiers and got just a HINT of the suffering that our brave Continental soldiers experienced... Who in today's times would walk countless miles in frozen, slushy roads, IN BARE BLEEDING feet, without getting paid for months and.... against the World's most formidable Army? I am amazed at the courage and commitment of our Revolutionary fathers and the sacrifices they made... sacrifices that we will never ever begin to fully appreciate. A GREAT read.
meads More than 1 year ago
A fantastic blending of actual history and fictional characters. Give us more Newt, after you retire from the White House, of course.
Graceson Brotzman More than 1 year ago
This is a perfect title for a great book. this book is set aound Christmas eve and the task that has befallen Washington and the rest of the patriots this night was egnormous. the men, supplies, and other logistics which also included the boats to transfer all the fore mentioned material, men, and what ever is needed for this crossing of the Delaware river to accomplish their mission. I am sure most of the main char-acters were correct and very little fiction was use as movies use to make a movie more interesting. Recommend to history and non-history buffs, a good read. Graceson J. Brotzman
Jennifer Perry More than 1 year ago
I have never been interested in the Revolutionary War, at least not until what has been going on with our country lately. I have learned what it took to help make our country what it is today.
Vickie Ireland More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully rendered depiction of the hardships endured by the rag-tag American army and the tremendous leadership of George Washington and his staff. Truly a great reminder of what fortitude was required to make America a country of its own and not a colony of another.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"to try mens souls" is a very exellent book and even though it is a novel both of the writers give the readers a new way to learn about the revolutionery war . newt gingrich and wm forstchen follow several members of the members of washingtons armey and we get to know all of the historical events through their eyes and their lifes . this bestseller also brings alive such nobel characters as washington and patrick henrey this is a real fun and historic way to learn about some of the most important events of american history. great gift idea for a friend or family member or school library or soldier serving over seas
Muhammad_Ali_Hasan More than 1 year ago
In writing "To Try Men's Souls," authors Newt Gingrich and William Fortschen have done a masterful job of piecing together General George Washington's Christmas day attack against the Hessians, accurately coordinating Washington's narratives with his army's movement, the historical time of day and the topographical challenges that were faced, as the Revolution pushed forward. All good stories must carry a strong rollercoaster of emotions. In the book's multi-narrative structure, we go from following Washington, as he and his men slog through miles of mud, their bare and wounded feet leaving trails of blood, to following Colonel Rall, a leader of the opposing Hessian forces, whose troops sit in the comfort of warm fires. Rall's hatred towards America is documented well, as the story speaks of the Hessians imprisoning American soldiers and humiliating them, with various public displays of horror. Thus, as our American forces close in on Trenton, where a hungover Hessian army awaits, sleepy from Christmas Eve celebrations, our bloodlust is satisfied! We feast on the fainted Hessians, vigorously gunning them down and crushing their skulls! It is a strong emotional point - after wading through freezing water, with no boots, no food, and spending the entire evening in sub-zero temperatures, our thoughts become that of pure animal - we want these Hessians to die. We feel it. Vengeance - an desire difficult to capture, written perfectly by the authors. However, let it be noted that our American forces quickly fed and took care of those Hessians that surrendered. We are "Americans" after all, is what Washington tells the Hessian leaders, who are surprised at his American mercy. The second notable reason to read this book is that of Washington's leadership. I offer a special point - author Newt Gingrich, arguably, is the most accomplished Congressman who has ever served. Consider this fact - no modern American President, with the exception of George W. Bush, has ever seen his Party make gains in both the House and Senate. By outlining the "Contract With America" and coordinating hundreds of Republican campaigns under one umbrella, Gingrich architected the most successful political victory of our times, capturing both the House and Senate in 1994. In turn, the book beautifully shares Washington's anecdotes on leadership. At one point, Washington, with a group of men watching, is told that the storms ahead are too harsh and that the march should be abandoned; without missing a beat, Washington quickly announces that the storm is a "blessing" from God that will further relax the Hessians, thus favoring his men's chances. My suspicions are that Gingrich is sharing with us his best lessons on leadership through the narrative of Washington - the psychology behind a true leader, as written by a tested leader. Lastly, I share the most beautiful line from the book: "This day had united them. No longer, at least for this moment, were they Virginians and Marylanders, men of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York. They were comrades, united by the shared bond of blood, suffering, and, at last, this victory. They were the army of these United States of America." To truly appreciate the paragraph above, the men whose feet bled from Pennsylvania to Trenton, in pursuit of not just a Hessian army, but a dream of liberty. to truly appreciate it, one will have to read the entire book. Muhammad Ali Hasan
Griperang72a 4 months ago
Now if you read my blog you know I usually give the books I read a good review. It is not easy for me to give bad reviews but this book just did not do it for me. I felt this book was dry and really should have stopped reading it about 50 pages into it. Actually I put this book down three times before I finally got it finished. I kept going as I really wanted to like this book as I enjoy reading about this time period. While I give the author's credit for their vivid descriptions which really made me feel and understand all these soldiers went through for our freedom, it was just hard to read. At times I felt as if I was reading the same thing over and over again. I liked following the story of Jonathan and felt bad for him at the end. I do not think I will continue on with this series as I am afraid it will be just as dry. It was just amazing and heart wrenching at the same time all the guys went through. No food, no shoes and very little clothes, I do not think many people today could withstand this. At the same time I bought this book I bought the first book in their Civil War series and I hope it is written better. We shall see.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This has brought histroy back to me in a way i have never experienced before. Amazing book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worst historical fiction I have ever read. Wish i had a refund!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A v
woodySP More than 1 year ago
an interesting, riveting look at a piece of American history.
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