Wednesday’s Book Review: “Independence”

IndependenceIndependence: The Struggle to Set America Free. By John Ferling. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Writer John Ferling, has a knack for writing engaging, reflective, and insightful historical narratives. In Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free he tackles the process whereby American leaders and most of the rank and file came to accept independence from Great Britain. It was no straight line from loyalty to rebellion and the twists and turns are well documented in this entertaining book. It deals with the period from the 1760s until the completion of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776. Ferling emphasizes biography and drama over detailed research and analysis.

The 14 chapters in this book are essentially collective biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Joseph Galloway, Lord Dartmouth, George Washington, John Dickinson, John Adams, George III, Charles James Fox, Thomas Paine, James Wilson, Robert Morris, Lord Howe, Abigail Adams, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson. The story marches through the process all of them followed from their places in the 1760s through the point at which they pursued hostilities.

In the course of this book readers are exposed to the battlefields of the early part of the conflict to the halls of the powerful in London and the colonists of all stripes who gathered in Philadelphia. Ferling plays throughout this account the related aspects of politics, insurgency, protest, warfare, and the debate over democracy. The most significant aspect of this story, it seems to me, is that it ended not in a military takeover, as has been the case so often during political transitions, but in the creation of republic. It was far from a given, and the result was far from the enlightened government that we are taught in patriotic literature. Yet, it was a remarkable time, the point at which the most powerful empire on Earth lost a key element of its holdings and its breakaway colonists created a dynamo of a nation.

This book is best in recreating drama and readers will find it an easy and enlightening reading experience. Professionals in the field will probably look long for new and different ideas, a thesis that will change the dynamic of understanding about the American Revolution, and will fail to find them. The strength of this book is in a powerful story very well told. It is great for undergraduates just being exposed for the first time to the themes of the revolutionary era.

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