LIBERTY! by Thomas Fleming


The American Revolution
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 Bestselling historian and novelist Fleming (Remember the Morning, p. 1049) offers a solid popular history of America's era of unrest, revolution, and constitutional government (176389) in this lavishly illustrated companion volume to a three-part PBS series airing in November. How to make a familiar story into something new? Fleming starts from an old but often forgotten historical perspective--the idea that individuals matter--by personifying English folly and American resistance in two men named George. In contrast to histories centered more on American responses, Fleming stresses the role of the young King George III, who alienated able ministers such as William Pitt, sought out toadies to head his government, and rammed confiscatory tax (and increasingly anti-American) policies through an unrepresentative, corrupt Parliament. In contrast, the drive for American liberty was spearheaded by the incorruptible George Washington, who accepted civilian control of the military (despite his constant complaints about Congress) and continually renounced opportunities to become a Cromwellian dictator. Although Fleming includes an affectionate portrait of Benjamin Franklin, he concentrates his account on military events, with gripping details on key battles (e.g., when falling sleet ruined much of his men's gunpowder just before the battle of Trenton, Washington gave the order to use the bayonet). Numerous sidebars highlight such matters as daily life in the late colonial period (only 200 out of 3,500 practicing doctors in America on the eve of revolution had medical degrees), the evolution of ``Yankee Doodle,'' the war's high casualty rate, and the long-neglected role of such racial/ethnic groups as the Irish, Jews, and blacks (a group that by 1779 comprised almost 15 percent of America's army). The book's one irony, given its title, is that Fleming devotes little attention to the differing conceptions of liberty throughout the colonies. Lacking in analytical depth, but packed with narrative insight into personalities and often delicious minutiae. (300 color illustrations) (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection; History Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-670-87021-8
Page count: 394pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997


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