Review

The Glorious Cause: A Novel of the American Revolution

by Jeff Shaara

If THE
GLORIOUS CAUSE has one virtue, if it does anything well at all, it
describes the grand strategy of the English and American generals
in the Revolutionary War. A map of the major battles does little to
reveal exactly what the people who were in charge at the time were
thinking. Why did the British spend so much time and energy in
capturing New York? Why then move across New Jersey to
Philadelphia, with Washington's army nipping at their heels all the
way? If Valley Forge was such a horrible place for winter quarters,
why did Washington choose it? Why did Cornwallis allow himself to
be bottled up at Yorktown?

The reader with a passing interest in these tactical mysteries will
find the answers in THE GLORIOUS CAUSE, but little else. Jeff
Shaara is a writer with limited talent, but the one thing he does
quite well is describing the movements of armies on the march.
Washington's evacuation from New York is lovingly described, as is
the assault on Trenton and a score of lesser conflicts. (The battle
of Saratoga, for some incomprehensible reason, is given
comparatively short shrift.) In terms of strict military history,
in terms of analyzing the battles and leaders of the war, Shaara
does a good, workmanlike job here.

But any novel about the Revolutionary War must, inescapably, be
about more than the armies and the bloodshed and the strategy. More
than anything else, a book like THE GLORIOUS CAUSE ought to be
about, well, the glory of the cause and the brave men and women who
fought for American liberty. Shaara, however, shortchanges the
reader by removing the battles from the cause, by turning most of
his fascinating real-life characters into little more than boxes
and arrows on a map.

Shaara fails primarily because he chooses many of the wrong
characters. We hear little, if anything, about Thomas Jefferson,
Tom Paine, John Paul Jones, Francis Marion, Samuel Adams, or even
Benedict Arnold or King George. There is little attention paid to
the ideas and ideals that drew men to the battlefields and that in
turn inspired a revolution in liberty across the globe that
continues to this day. The characters that are presented are not
done so with skill or style or anything else to make them
memorable. For example, Shaara focuses a lot of attention on
Nathaniel Greene, a Rhode Island general who spends an inordinate
amount of the novel as the army's quartermaster.

The only truly memorable character in THE GLORIOUS CAUSE turns out
to be, surprisingly, General Cornwallis. The English general is
best known for his surrender at Yorktown; he seldom appears
elsewhere in accounts of the war. Shaara rescues Cornwallis from
the ash heap of history and makes him a likable, almost
sympathetic, character, struggling against incompetent and vain
commanding officers.

However, the true hero of THE GLORIOUS CAUSE is not its pleasant
enemy but its righteous hero: General George Washington of
Virginia. Shaara's characterization of Washington is the book's
largest and most unforgivable flaw. Shaara never presents
Washington as anything but a bloodless icon, the man on the dollar
bill with the wooden teeth. What we find out about his character
--- arguably the Continental Army's most important asset --- is
done through inference and anecdote. Washington is a cold and
remote figure to too many Americans; Shaara's work does little or
nothing to change that.

THE GLORIOUS CAUSE succeeds only in its mastery of the fine points
of military maneuver and the explication of high strategy. In the
more important area of characterization and inspiration, it fails
badly. It is a rich and detailed piece of work, but hardly
revolutionary.

Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds on January 22, 2011

The Glorious Cause: A Novel of the American Revolution
by Jeff Shaara

  • Publication Date: June 3, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Fawcett
  • ISBN-10: 0345427580
  • ISBN-13: 9780345427588