“Even the most complete victories can sow the seeds of reversal and defeat for victors too dazzled by success to remember that they are, in fact, only human”: a smartly written history of the Seven Years’ War in America.
Anderson (History/Univ. of Colorado; The Dominion of War, Jan. 2005), the world’s leading living authority on the conflict better known as the French and Indian War, depicts the clash of three empires: the French, the English and the Iroquois. So long as the Iroquois were able to control the Ohio River Valley and keep English settlers and soldiers from moving about in number there, the French to the north were content to keep out, too. A rebellion of Iroquois subjects created a power vacuum soon filled by those very English; the French crown reacted by establishing forts near what is now Pittsburgh. An officer of Virginia militia, George Washington took a reconnaissance in force to see what was going on and, after a brief firefight, captured a French ensign who informed him that British forces would have to “evacuate the lands of the king of France, or suffer the consequences.” No sooner had the French officer spoken than a Mingo ally of Washington’s bashed his brains in with a tomahawk, providing Louis XV “all the justification he would ever need to declare war on Great Britain.” The 1750s saw a vicious war of massacre and ambush, its symbolic high point fought at Montreal when both the English and French commanders were mortally wounded within minutes of each other. French defeat cleared the way for the English conquest of Canada—but also gave expansion-minded colonists, Washington among them, notions that they could take care of themselves without help from the mother country, an idea that soon would be tested.
Lucid and swift-moving. With luck, Anderson’s book will awaken interest in a critically important period in colonial history that, he laments, is about as familiar now as the Peloponnesian War.