A solid and delightful bicentennial volume which rejoices in its own virtuosity at upsetting cliches, while it convincingly...



A solid and delightful bicentennial volume which rejoices in its own virtuosity at upsetting cliches, while it convincingly reaffirms the biggest one of all--Washington as brave, solitary commander. Fleming catches us off guard by starting the book with the colonial campaign to find Canadian allies, and he repeatedly adverts to the brilliance of Benedict Arnold, the illusions of northern adventurers, the smallpox and the maggots and officers who literally drank themselves to death when besieged at Isle-au-Noix. Among the principal targets of Fleming's iconoclasm are the pro-American Britons: Burke was merely Lord Rockingham's man and scarcely favored independence, Fox was a squalid gambler though he neatly exposed the war's silliness, and Wilkes was an unprincipled operator, not a radical hero. The book expresses no little sympathy for the ""moderates"" in America who kept hoping rapprochement could be achieved, and Fleming frowns like any 18th-century Whig on ""leveling"" sentiments which accompanied the struggle. On the military level, the book denies that, in 1776 at least, the fight took place between devilish American guerrillas and parade-ground redcoat robots; Fleming underlines the latter's successes and the former's perilous indiscipline. Rebel access to West Indian gunpowder was decisive in surviving a year that saw the Americans in desperate shape both before and after the crossing of the Delaware--an episode that Fleming builds up to matchlessly. At the same time the ""dark side""--American cowardice, looting and irresolution--is tendentiously thumped upon. Fleming lets loose periodic homilies against modern revolutions, and he thanks heaven that General Lee got captured in New Jersey before he could supplant Washington and become a ""Robespierre."" Scorn is also devoted, however, to King George's linchpin hawk, Lord George Germain, and to the indolent landlords in Parliament. On another level, the book suffers from a lack of framework, both in shaping the military flow and appraising the causes of the war. But this is perhaps a necessary defect of its narrative virtues. Definitely geared to seduce the blase as well as Colonial Dames.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1975

ISBN: 0393336727

Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1975