Prolific pop historian McLynn (Wagons West, 2003, etc.) covers the Birth of the British Empire in selective detail, restricting his expansive narrative to one year of geopolitics and military exploits.
Like countless other busy times, the year 1759 climaxed a period of important change. From 1756 through 1763, England’s struggle with France for world domination was played out in the Seven Years’ War, also known in America as the French and Indian War. While Bonnie Prince Charlie dreamed of England’s throne, Pitt dominated Parliament and King George II. Across the Channel, La Pompadour controlled Louis XV, the Mughal Empire was falling, and Clive conquered India. In 1759, Voltaire wrote Candide, Johnson wrote Rasselas, and Englishmen took charge of the West Indies, subjugating Guadeloupe. The French were defeated in Germany and Prussia. British tars sunk their fleet off the coast of Portugal. Most of the swashbuckling, apparently, was in North America, which inspires the author’s most fervid prose as Rogers’ Rangers roam the woods, Native Americans gather scalps, and Canada’s forest prompts purple descriptions of “Stygian depths . . . crazed prodigality of Nature . . . a gallimaufry of sere and yellow ferns, feculent toadstools,” and similar mulch. In McLynn’s freewheeling text (unencumbered by footnotes), heroes and rogues act, armies march across the pages, and ships of the line sail on a sea of words. He retells in fine detail the great story of Wolfe’s rout of Montcalm in the battle that killed both commanders. The author may dabble in obscure Briticisms (“winkled out,” or “a spectacular cropper”), and someone should have reminded him that there’s no “modern Tennessee-South Carolina border,” but he deftly parades monarchs, generals, and politicians in full regalia through his big book about a short historical span.
A zealous attack on a jam-packed moment of world change. (Maps and 16 pp. illustrations, not seen)