Christian's Reviews > The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789

The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff
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's review
Mar 31, 08

Read in March, 2008

Summary review:

The best one-volume American Revolution book I've read so far. Has readability issues at various points, but is not overly taxing. Most useful for researching the events before (and leading to) the war, as well as the various arguments in crafting the constitution. Doesn't provide a lot of historical anecdotes of the characters involved, and not every battle is described in detail. Despite that, definitely the best place to start.

Review from Washington the General to Washington the President:

The book takes on a different tone once the war gets moving. Readability increases, but content decreases (for example, this book takes 30 pages to describe what David Hackett Fisher takes over 300 pages to describe in Washington's Crossing). Decrease in content is understandable (can't cover everything to the extent a more specific work can), but at the same time, it hurts the book somewhat. All the focus on England during the first part of the book? Gone for most of the remaining. While some battles are described in detail, others are less so, so you get sort of a 'greatest hits' feel.

Then there's the Waxhaws. Not sure what happened here, but it's not in the book ... but it's referenced afterwards in subsequent battles. If you know about the Waxhaws and "Tarleton's Quarter!", then no biggie, your mind can fill in the blanks. If you don't, however, it's a very odd omission.

The lack of "personality" writing continues as well. Conway Cabal? Not even mentioned. Benedict Arnold? We're told in one sentence he switched sides, and the fate of Major Andre is briefly mentioned in a different context.

When it gets to the Constitution, the level of detail increases significantly. No simple Virginia Plan / Jersey Plan = Connecticut Plan that you normally get in a textbook; all points of the debate are detailed.

So for the second part of the book, I'd give it 4 stars for readability, 3 stars for content during the war and 4 stars for content after the war.

Review up to the Battle of (Breed's) Bunker Hill:

This is a very detailed work; if you want to know exactly what led the colonies to revolt, this is the book for you. No simple "colonies united against the Intolerable Acts" here -- you learn that Georgia skipped out of the first Continental Congress because they feared a Creek Indian uprising, and didn't want to jeopardize their standing with the British Troops they would need to defend against it. Not everything starts in Boston -- in some cases, New York, Philadelphia, or Virginia takes the lead. And there wasn't always unity -- merchants, planters, and artisans (or Yankees, New Yorkers, and Carolinians) sometimes stood together, but oftentimes disagreed on what method to use to protest; the various support often fell behind methods that minimized financial loss for the respective groups (South Carolina agreed to nonexportation, as long as rice was exempted, and Virginia asked that it not start until after the current tobacco crop could be harvested). In addition, unlike many general American Revolution works, plenty of time is spent in London with the various permutations of ministry and acts -- and who supported what (some of the 'allies' of America, e.g. Burke, still sometimes supported the acts that infuriated the colonials).

For the battles, the author is also thorough (well, at least for Lexington, Concord, Ticonderoga, and Breed's/Bunker Hull). No simple regurgitation of other, more-focused works (as is typical for general surveys throughout the field of history) -- instead, the works are compared, and selections are chosen (and footnotes provided) to best represent the history. Troop sources and movements are detailed, so you get a real feel for what's going on on the ground.

So ... that's a lot, huh? Something has to be missing to have this all in 300 pages. And that's the personalities. The typical focus on Washington, Adams (both of them), Jefferson, Franklin, etc., is almost non-existent. Granted, we're not at the Declaration yet, but the typical scenes that are always called upon in these works (Hancock expecting to get the Commander-in-Chief role, and is taken aback when Adams nominates Washington instead -- an utterly pointless scene (it's not like Hancock betrays anyone as a result) that historians can't resist) aren't in here. This does two thing: the positive is, well, what I wrote above. The negative is that these little personality stories usually help improve the readability of the work. So the book is a little on the slow, dry, academic side.

Long story short (too late): content 5 stars, readability 3 stars ... so far.

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