Christian's Reviews > Washington's General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution

Washington's General by Terry Golway
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Jan 09, 08

Recommended for: those kicking back a lager at Natty Greene's
Read in January, 2008

There's always a concern when a history or biography comes off as more 'popular' than academic, especially when the relative obscurity of the subject is such that there is no real demand for a popular history.

The issue here, though, is that its the relative obscurity of the subject matter, General Nathanael Greene, is itself a failing of the popular telling of the American Revolution. This in turn is due to the focus on the war in the North, with the typical focus on the South being exclusively Yorktown. Thus the Southern theater of Greene's glory is a footnote to the story of Independence, although recent abominations, er, movies such as The Patriot have started bringing more focus on this forgotten theater of war.

Greene also didn't help his case by dying before the Constitution was adopted; whereas figures such as Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox who were in Washington's cabinet get their proper measure of respect for both their military and political careers, Greene only possesses the former.

So a popular history of Greene is necessary as a way to bring a pivotal figure to the forefront. Golway does an admirable job in making the case for Greene's role in the war's success (both in the North and the South), although he struggles a little bit when Greene is quartermaster general, as both the subject and its author are highly repetitive during this interval. I was also surprised with how much detail was given to the oft-overlooked Battle of Springfield ... until I noticed the author lives in Maplewood which is two towns over from Springfield and borders Union (my hometown, at the time called Connecticut Farms) which hosted a major part of conflict.

Greene himself deserves a modern historical biography of the size typically authored by Brands or Chernow (i.e. twice the size), but Golway does a great job in laying the groundwork and re-introducing to Americans a figure who should not be ignored. All fans of the American Revolution owe it to themselves to read this biography.
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